Middridge, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham born right back John “Dickie” Downs started his football career with Crook Town in 1906 before joining Shildon Athletic in 1907, from whom he signed for Second Division Barnsley in May 1908, making his Football League debut that September at Blackpool. He was part of the Barnsley team that reached the 1910 FA Cup Final losing 2-0 in a replay to Newcastle United at Goodison Park after the Final at The Crystal Palace had finished a 1-1 draw, and he was also a member of the team who famously went one better in the 1912 FA Cup Final when Barnsley beat West Bromwich Albion in another replay at Bramall Lane with a goal two minutes from the end of extra time after the first match at The Crystal Palace had finished goalless, still the club’s only major honour. The Manchester Guardian, when reporting on both 1912 matches, selected Downs as one of the better players on the pitch.
During the First World War he enlisted with the Royal Army Medical Corps in December 1915 and was discharged in December 1916. He returned to Oakwell after the War before signing for Everton in March 1920 for £2,500 after 305 games and 11 goals for The Tykes over 14 years at the club, and was given the Everton club captaincy in 1920-21. He was awarded his only England cap against Ireland at Roker Park in a match England won 2-0 in October 1920. He also represented The Football League in a 4-1 defeat to The Scottish League in Glasgow in March 1913 while still a Barnsley player, as well as a further appearance when an Evertonian. He continued to play for Everton until he signed for Third Division Brighton & Hove Albion in August 1924 after 97 games for The Toffees, playing 16 games for Brighton in the first half of the 1924-25 season before his retirement in May 1925.