Centre forward John Goodall, along with his younger brother Archie, was born to a Scottish-born soldier who by the nature of his job was liable to travel around. John was born in Westminster, London in 1863, and Archie in Belfast the following year, but both spent the majority of their childhoods in Kilmarnock. Archie would go on to play for Ireland whereas John played for England as the rules of international football of the time stipulated him as English. As such they became the first brothers in history to play for different countries. His early experience was gained playing for Kilmarnock Burns and Kilmarnock Athletic in 1882. Then he played for Great Lever in Bolton in 1883. He was eventually signed by Preston’s chairman and manager, Major William Sudell who had led the struggle for professionalism (once stating that stopping the inevitability of paid footballers was “like trying to stop Niagara with a three-legged stool”) and had gathered a group of Scots together at Preston to form one of strongest sides in the country. Sudell gave The Football League its name and was its first treasurer.
Goodall signed for Preston North End at the beginning of the 1885-86 season, ultimately scoring 50 goals in 56 games for the club. He had been a part of the 1888 Cup Final team, which had lost to West Bromwich Albion but it was the following year that his fame was assured. In that year, the inaugural season of The Football League, the Preston North End side went undefeated through their League campaign and won the FA Cup without conceding a goal to earn the club the nickname “The Invincibles”. An oddity of his Deepdale days was that in Preston North End’s all-time-record FA Cup win, 26-0 against Hyde United, he scored only once.
Goodall finished the season as the League’s top scorer with 20 goals in 21 games and went on to be selected to represent the England national team against Wales in February 1888 in a 5-1 win at Crewe Alexandra’s ground, the first of 14 England caps. In all, Goodall was capped six times versus Wales, seven times against Scotland, and once against Ireland, scoring 12 goals. He saw his last international in 1898 having appeared at inside right, centre forward, and inside left. One opponent said of him: “his feet seemed to move in quicksilver”. He also captained his country twice. He also represented The Football League on four occasions.
Goodall left Preston North End for Derby County in 1889 at the height of his fame. His brother Archie a centre-half, played alongside John at Derby County.
He was retained by the Derby club until 1898. It was at Derby County where the older Goodall became a mentor to Stephen Bloomer, the best goal scorer of that generation, from the start of the 1892-93 season. Bloomer allegedly credited Goodall with his early development and partly as a result of this combination, The Rams came strongly to the fore but were never quite able to convert their talents into silverware finishing third in the League twice, runners-up once (in 1896), FA Cup semi-finalists twice, and runners-up once (in 1898 when they lost the FA Cup Final 3-1 to Nottingham Forest).
Goodall did not feature in the 1899 FA Cup Final as he was by now fading as a first-time fixture at the Baseball Ground but in October 1899 he was taken on by New Brighton Tower. However, at the end of Goodall’s first season, having scored twice in 6 appearances, the owners, citing financial difficulties, withdrew the club from the League despite finishing 4th in the Second Division of The Football League. . Goodall played out his League career in relative obscurity with Glossop North End, in Derbyshire, in the Second Division, joining them in February 1901 and scoring 9 goals in 37 appearances.
In 1903 he took up a position as the first player-manager of Watford of the Southern League for £3/10s a week and stayed in position until May 1910, after when he became the groundsman. An Observer reporter visited Goodall in May 1903, as he prepared for the new season and, in part, wrote this:
“Asked as to the prospects in Watford, the new manager saw no reason why Watford, with its good central position and great railway facilities, should not be able to turn out a team to occupy a respectable position on the Southern League ladder.The moment we got away from the subject of Watford you could hear the rumbling of curling stones, the swish of cricket balls, the rippling of waters “willow-wooed,” and the swipes of drivers in the royal and ancient game of “gowf”. Of Goodall’s fishing one need say no more than that he is an angler. But John’s achievements in the roaring game cannot be passed over. While at Preston he was the champion curler, and once when playing against the best of Scotia’s curlers in the championship of Great Britain at Southport, he ran out second. With reference to the game of golf, Goodall knows all about long drives and good approaches, bunkers, and other hazards; the secret of keeping your eye on the ball is his, and the language thereof! Pigeon shooting also claimed his attention. The gentler game of bowling has attracted him of a summer’s evening and he can put a bowl to lie dead on the jack when required. In the cricket field he has kept wicket for Derby County against Yorkshire and Warwickshire. In the new manager, Watford have a man who can be relied upon at all times to give a good account of himself in any position, particularly in the van.”
His impact of his reign at Watford was immediate. The club broke various records in winning Division Two of the Southern League in 1903-04. They went through the campaign undefeated, recording the highest FA Cup victory in the club’s history (6-0 versus Redhill 31st October 1903) and having both the highest season (Bertie Banks – 21 goals) and single game goal scorer in the club’s history (Harry Barton – 6 goals v. Wycombe Wanderers 26th September 1903). In February 1907 he played alongside his son Dick in a reserve-team match away to Chelsea in the South Eastern League, in which Dick scored in a 2-4 defeat.
Goodall played his last match for Watford on 14th September 1907 at the age of 44 years and 87 days in a Southern League game against Bradford Park Avenue, becoming the oldest person ever to have played for Watford. In total he scored 17 goals in 69 appearances for The Hornets. He came back to football in 1910 with French club RC Roubaix and returned to British football as player-manager of Welsh Southern League Second Division club Mardy in the summer of 1912 before he retired in April 1913.
He also played first-class cricket for Derbyshire, he made his debut in a match against Yorkshire in June 1895 when he scored a healthy 32 in his second innings to help Derbyshire to victory. In the 1896 season he kept wicket against Warwickshire in July, taking one catch in another victory for Derbyshire. He also represented England at bowls, and was an excellent billiards player.