Ellacombe, Torquay, Devon born outside right Ralph Birkett began his football career with Dartmouth United in 1928 of the Plymouth & District League before joining Third Division (South) Torquay United, initially as an amateur, in 1929, where he made his Football League debut against Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic in March 1930, starring in a 7-0 win and signing a professional contract the same month. In April 1933, after scoring 20 goals in 98 appearances for The Gulls, Birkett moved to Arsenal for a fee of £1,588, joining the Highbury side during one of the most impressive periods in their history.
His First Division debut came on 2nd September 1933 against Sheffield Wednesday, at Hillsborough and in his first first full season at Arsenal Birkett scored 5 goals in 15 League appearances as Arsenal won the League Championship in 1933-34, he also played and scored twice in their 3-0 FA Charity Shield win over Everton at Goodison Park in October 1933. However the next season, when Arsenal retained their League title, Birkett was a fringe player, and although he once again played and indeed scored in their FA Charity Shield match, a 4-0 win over Manchester City at Highbury in November 1934, he soon transferred to Middlesbrough for £5,000 in March 1935 after 11 goals in 23 appearances for The Gunners.
He was selected for England in October 1935 when he played in a 3-1 win over Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast, scoring in the 63rd minute, but despite being selected two months later for the international with Germany, from which injury forced his withdrawal, this proved his only England cap. He also made two appearances for The Football League and appeared for England in an unofficial wartime international.
He played three full seasons at Middlesbrough, and was their second top scorer behind George Camsell in 1935-36 with 22 goals, a total which included a hat-trick in a 6-1 win over Everton in September 1935, before he moved to Second Division Newcastle United for £5,900 in July 1938 after 36 goals in 101 appearances for ‘Boro. He scored 3 times in 27 appearances for The Toon through to the outbreak of the Second World War, and retired from playing in 1941 during the War.