Glasgow born centre half John “Gentleman John” Harris was born to be a footballer, being the son of former Scottish international centre forward and Newcastle United player Neil Harris, scorer of the winning goals in the 1924 FA Cup Final. He was on the books of Swindon Town from 1932 before moving to Second Division club Swansea Town in August 1934 when the side was managed by his father. He made his Football League debut for Swansea at Bradford Park Avenue in April 1935 still aged 17, scoring 4 goals in 33 appearances before Tottenham Hotspur signed him in February 1939. Without having played for the Spurs first eleven Wolverhampton Wanderers then bought him in May 1939, however his career, like most players in his era, was severely interrupted when the Second World War broke out in September 1939 by when he had not played for Wolves.
During the War, he made 121 guest appearances for Southampton, scoring 15 goals. Harris also played once for Scotland in a wartime international against England at Hampden Park in 1945, although these matches are considered unofficial.
He joined Chelsea on loan from Wolves during the Second World War and in September 1945 signed permanently for £5,000, and he played for them until April 1956, 11 seasons in total, by when he was aged 38. A tough-tackling but skilful centre half described as “a tower of strength in the Pensioners’ defence. Strongly built, he is a dominating player and clever with his head and feet”, Harris was a regular in the Chelsea side missing just one match a season for the first three peacetime seasons, and for another six seasons missing only relatively few matches, and he was club captain until Roy Bentley took over the role. He was a member of Chelsea’s 1954-55 League Championship winning side, making 31 appearances that season. He made 364 appearances and scored 14 goals for The Pensioners, 12 of which were penalties, playing his final match in April 1956.
He joined Chester City in July 1956 initially as player manager and scored once in 29 appearances before finishing playing at the end of the 1956-57 season. He stayed at Sealand Road until he took over from Joe Mercer as manager of Sheffield United on 20th April 1959 and finished the season third, seven points behind second placed Fulham. His first full season finished in fourth place. Harris was a quiet dignified man and, moulded his players into a highly efficient team without fuss, always shunning the limelight. To him, the team was more important than the manager. This attitude produced a harmonious dressing room and, as a result, effective and attractive performances on the field of play.
In 1961, his Sheffield United team won promotion from the Second Division as runners-up to Ipswich Town, mainly due to his purchase of Welsh international winger Len Allchurch for £12,500 from Swansea. Under Harris, United enjoyed numerous runs in the FA Cup (reaching the semi-finals in 1961 for the first time since 1936) and the League Cup. Despite financial problems, he led United to fifth place in the first season back in the First Division, and over the next few years relied on a steady flow of youngsters graduating from the reserve team to replace players sold to remain in profit. After years of mid-table finishes, he was “promoted” to General Manager in August 1968 after the team had been relegated the previous season, replaced by Arthur Rowley. However, Rowley was sacked within a year and Harris returned as manager in August 1969.
In the ensuing years, he made astute and highly effective signings with players such as Tony Currie, Alan Woodward, Len Badger, Geoff Salmons, Eddie Colquhoun, Bill Dearden and Gil Reece all signing for the Blades, and resulted in Sheffield United winning promotion from the Second Division in 1970-71. Harris understood the principle of getting the right man for the job and, this was typified by his signing of Trevor Hockey to boost United’s promotion challenge in 1971.
Sheffield United started the 1971-72 season in great form and, under the guidance of Harris they stayed top of the First Division with an unbeaten run of eleven games from the start of the season. Harris resigned in December 1973 to become the club’s Senior Executive. In June 1977 he finally left United and later acted as scout for Sheffield Wednesday.
His uncle was Joshua “Jack” Harris, who played for Burnley, Bristol City, Leeds United and Fulham.