Sheffield born goalkeeper Ernest Blackwell began his football career with Atlas & Norfolk Works and made his name at Midland League club Scunthorpe & Lindsey United before being signed by Sheffield United in May 1914. He was seen as understudy to Harold Gough and Ted Hufton and as such his appearances were limited throughout his time at Bramall Lane. Having spent some time in the navy as a fitness instructor, he remained at the club for the duration of the First World War, making sporadic appearances for The Blades and guesting for Leicester Fosse, Crystal Palace and cross town rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
After the War, Blackwell remained as Gough’s understudy, making his Football League debut at Manchester United in November 1919, but made only infrequent appearances over six seasons at Bramall Lane, the highlight of his career coming when he played in all 9 ties in their FA Cup run ending in the 1923 FA Cup semi-final, which they lost 1-0 to eventual winners Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford.
Injuries began to take their toll and after a bout of appendicitis he was advised that a blow to the abdomen could have terminal results and he was forced to retire in 1925 having made 56 appearances for The Blades. In recognition of his service, United presented him with a grant of £500 to commence a new business venture.
His younger brother Harry Blackwell was also a goalkeeper who played for Scunthorpe & Lindsey United, Aberdeen, Clapton Orient and Forfar Athletic. Perhaps the most famous goalkeeper of the era, Sam Hardy, was a cousin.
NB in the photograph, taken during the 1923 FA Cup semi final at Old Trafford on 24th March 1923, Blackwell punches away (from a corner?) from the airborne Jack Smith (or perhaps David Jack who I suspect is the player obscured by two Sheffield United defenders on the right of the photograph). On the far left of the photograph Bolton’s Ted Vizard jumps above Sheffield United’s Bill Cook. The other Sheffield United player watching on is the balding Billy Gillespie.