Born in Bedminster, left back Joe Cottle played locally for Bristol & District League side Eclipse in 1903 and Dolphins of Bristol in 1904 before Harry Thickett signed him in June 1905 to play professionally for Bristol City. Cottle made his debut at left back on 30th September 1905 in a 2-1 win at Bradford City. This was the 5th match of a run of 14 successive wins achieved by Bristol City between September and December 1905. Cottle had replaced Billy Tuft in the left back position and retained his place for the rest of the season making 33 appearances as Bristol City won the Second Division Championship. Cottle and Archie Annan formed a formidable full back partnership for Bristol City under manager Harry Thickett during the first decade of the 20th century.
The following season 1906-07 Cottle missed only one league match making 37 appearances as The Robins finished runners up in the First Division. Cottle made 36 appearances in both 1907-08 & 1908-09 missing only 2 League matches in each First Division season. In 1908-09 Cottle also played in all 10 FA Cup ties including the 1909 FA Cup Final as City lost 0-1 to Manchester United at The Crystal Palace, the only time that Bristol City have reached the FA Cup Final. He also earned his one cap for England v Ireland in a 4-0 win at Bradford Park Avenue on 13th February 1909.
Cottle was ever present in 1909-10 making 38 appearances. He played in the opening 24 League games of 1910-11 before sustaining a broken leg during a 4-0 defeat at Preston North End on 28th January 1911. Bristol City were relegated back to the Second Division at the end of the season and Cottle left the club in the summer of 1911 after 223 appearances for Bristol City. Cottle then joined Southern League Bristol Rovers in August 1911 on a free transfer and later joined Mid Rhondda with Bill Demmery in 1912, the club managed by Archie Annan, before his eventual retirement.