Burslem, Staffordshire born inside right Joe Brough played for Burslem Park and then Smallthorne before he joined Second Division Burslem Port Vale as an amateur in the autumn of 1906, signing professional forms in February 1907, making his Football League debut at centre half a month later in a 2-2 home draw with Barnsley. He scored his first goal for the club on 13th April 1907, in a 2-1 win over Hull City at the Athletic Ground, his only goal in 11 appearances in the 1906-07 season. The club then went into liquidation, and Brough transferred to Stoke, where he made a single appearance in a 1-0 home win over Stockport County in February 1908.
With Stoke in financial difficulties he joined Tottenham Hotspur and made two appearances for Spurs during 1908-09. He then returned to Burslem Port Vale, by now playing in the North Staffordshire Federation League, in 1909 and playing centre forward he scored a club record 43 goals in the 1909-10 season, helping the club to win the Staffordshire Junior Cup. This won him a move to Liverpool in August 1910, and he played 11 First Division games in the 1910-11 season, scoring 3 goals for The Reds, but he hadn’t played for the first team for a year when he moved to Bristol City in January 1912. After two seasons with City, for whom he scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers in December 1912 and scored 11 goals in 22 appearances, he rejoined Port Vale, by now playing in the Central League, and scored 35 goals in the 1913-14 season, scoring another 17 goals for Vale in 1914-15.
But his career was interrupted by the First World War and Brough was conscripted to fight in the War in 1917. He was demobilised in October 1919 and continued playing for The Valiants mostly as an inside forward and sometimes at right half, Vale by now having been re-elected to the Football League Second Division. Brough won the Staffordshire Senior Cup and North Staffordshire Infirmary Cup with them in 1920. He scored 8 goals in 42 further appearances, playing his last match for Vale in May 1922 before his retirement. In all, he played a total of 209 matches (including 72 in the Football League) for Port Vale, and scored 111 goals (including 6 in the League).