Higham, near Barnsley, Yorkshire born outside right Tommy Birtles began his football career with Higham Town before joining Second Division Barnsley in September 1903, making his Football League debut at Chesterfield Town in April 1904, his only appearance of the season. The following season he was in the first team from the start of the season but lost his place in January after 17 appearances, and had to wait a year for a recall, when he scored twice in a win over Stockport County at Oakwell on New Year’s Day 1906, his first goals for The Tykes.
He remained in Barnsley’s team for the rest of the season, scoring 5 more goals, before joining Southern League Swindon Town in the summer of 1906 after 38 appearances for Barnsley, where he was an ever present in 1906-07, scoring 8 goals in 39 appearances for The Robins. However he again moved on, joining Southern League Portsmouth in the summer of 1907, and he spent the next three seasons at Fratton Park.
In May 1910 he returned to Barnsley and scored once in 5 more matches for Barnsley in the autumn of 1910, before joiningMidland League club Rotherham Town in 1911, where he spent two years before a return to the Southern League with Northampton Town in 1913. After one season he returned to Yorkshire joining Midland League club Doncaster Rovers, but his football career was effectively ended by the First World War.
Birtles was also a cricketer who made his debut in first class cricket for Yorkshire in 1913, a year in which he headed the Yorkshire 2nd XI batting averages with 413 runs at 51.61. A right handed batsman, he played both sides of the First World War, playing 37 matches for Yorkshire through to 1924, making a single century for Yorkshire, his only effort of 50 or more, when he made 104 against Lancashire in the Roses Match played at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, in July 1914. Promoted to open the innings in Yorkshire’s second innings, his century was by far the highest score of a drawn match. His century was out of his total aggregate of 876 first class runs. These were scored at an average of 19.04, and he also held 19 catches in first class play.
He also played for Barnsley Cricket Club for twenty years, and was also coach at Gresham’s School, Holt, Norfolk.