Bellshill, Lanarkshire born centre forward Willie Devlin scored well over 250 goals in his eventful career. He started with junior club Vale of Clyde in 1920 before joining Scottish League Clyde in April 1921, scoring twice in 10 appearances for The Bully Wee. A loan spell at King’s Park (now Stirling Albion) showcased his talent with 19 goals in only 13 matches before a move to Cowdenbeath in September 1922. At Central Park his career took off and Devlin was top scorer in the Scottish League in both 1924-25 and 1925-26 with 33 and 40 goals respectively in 68 matches, helping Cowdenbeath to promotion to the First Division, and he earned himself a big money £4,200 move to Huddersfield Town in February 1926.
He made his (scoreless) Football League debut in a 2-0 win at Newcastle United in early March 1926. Huddersfield had won the League Championship for two consecutive seasons and Devlin contributed to their third by scoring four goals in three more games in his debut season. He scored ten goals in 28 appearances the following season as the Terriers failed to add their fourth consecutive title, finishing runners-up, five points behind Newcastle United in 1926-27, before he signed for Liverpool in May 1927. Dick Forshaw had been controversially sold to Everton in March 1927 and the Reds needed a replacement.
Devlin was given his Liverpool debut in the final fixture of the 1926-27 season in a visit to West Ham and scored the second goal in a 3-3 draw. He was picked for the first 15 First Division matches the following year and scored 14 times, that figure included four strikes against both Bury in a 5-1 win and Portsmouth in an 8-2 hiding. He then missed three matches before being recalled for a further three, in which he failed to score and Tom Reid took over as centre forward for most of the rest of the season.
Devlin joined Heart of Midlothian just before the year end, making his Hearts debut on New Year’s Eve, bagging 14 goals in 17 appearances for Hearts before joining Cheshire League club Macclesfield Town in November 1928, scoring 20 goals in 26 appearances for The Silkmen before returning to Cowdenbeath in June 1929. He returned to England to play for Midland League Mansfield Town in June 1930, scoring 15 goals in 21 appearances for The Stags, before re-joining Cowdenbeath again in January 1931, joining Burton Town in March 1931 and Irish League Shelbourne in June 1931.
He then joined the French exodus in their newly-formed semi-professional national league playing for Olympique Marseille in 1932. Devlin only had a month’s trial at Marseille before joining Bangor City in August and then Boston Town in August 1933, followed by a spell at Ashton National from August 1934, but he returned to Olympique Marseille in August 1935, departing to Switzerland to play for FC Zurich in 1936.
Willie’s brother, Tom Devlin, also had an itinerant career. He played for Liverpool’s reserves in the 1926-27 season and featured for among others Birmingham, Preston, Swindon, Walsall and Oldham, later for Switzerland’s FC Zurich just like his sibling.
NB although published while Devlin was at Huddersfield Town, it uses the same image as his 1923 Cowdenbeath portrait.