An extremely hard, but versatile player, Ringsend, Dublin born wing half Val Harris won twenty Irish caps in five different positions (centre forward, inside right, right half, left half and centre half) between 1906 and 1914 and is considered one of the great Irish footballers in the period prior to the First World War. Harris had been an accomplished Gaelic footballer as a teenager who played Gaelic football for Dublin in 1901 before switching to soccer.
He played with junior clubs Pembroke and Emerald before signing with Shelbourne in the close season of 1904 after an unsuccessful trial with West Bromwich Albion in May 1904. He made an impressive start to his Irish League career. Within a month of his debut in a 3-1 defeat by Glentoran on 17th September 1904, Harris had made the first of four inter-League appearances playing at centre forward, inside right and outside right in consecutive defeats by the Football League between 1904 and 1907 (0-2, 0-4, 0-6 and 3-6). At the end of his first senior season Harris had played in the first of four consecutive Irish Cup Finals (the first two at inside left, then outside right, right half and centre half in a replay against Bohemians in 1908), winning just once, as Captain in a 2-0 defeat of Belfast Celtic at Dalymount Park in 1906.
Capped for the first time by Ireland in February 1906, Harris led the line in a 5-0 defeat by England at Solitude, Belfast. It would be his fifth cap, playing at left half, before Harris tasted victory with Ireland as Wales were defeated 1-0 at Aberdare in April 1908.
A week later Harris made his Football League debut for Everton in a 2-1 defeat at Woolwich Arsenal. He had cost Everton £350 at the end of March 1908, the maximum allowed at the time, and it proved to be money well spent. He was soon established as the team’s regular right half, noted for his consistency and effectiveness, many regarded him as one of the finest players in the game. With Harris in the team, Everton regularly challenged for the top honours, twice finishing as League runners-up in 1909 and 1912, as well as falling at the semi-final stage in the 1910 FA Cup when they lost in a replay to Barnsley at Old Trafford.
Harris has been described as an extremely hard player in the mode of Kevin Moran or Paul McGrath and like his Shelbourne, Everton and Ireland team mate, Bill Lacey, he was also very versatile, covering just about every outfield position during his career. Despite suffering a number of severe injuries related to his ‘robust’ style of play, Harris was remarkably consistent in his appearances for Ireland. He featured in a run of thirteen consecutive internationals between 1908 and 1912, the highlight of which was a 1-0 defeat of Scotland in 1910. Better was to follow, as in 1913 he captained the Irish to their first ever win over England, and the following year he was a member of Ireland’s first ever Home Nations Championship winning side.
In August 1914, after 2 goals in 214 appearances for The Toffees, Harris re-joined Shelbourne, but after a single season the League was suspended for the duration of the First World War. Until 1919 Shels contested the Leinster League, dominating it and the Leinster Cup. With the Irish League proper back in action for the 1919-20 season, Shelbourne claimed the Irish Cup “by default” when both Belfast Celtic and Glentoran were expelled from the competition. The following season Shelbourne, along with all the other “southern” Ireland clubs, resigned from the Irish League, and in 1921 they left the Irish FA altogether.
Shelbourne were founder members of the newly formed League of Ireland, and with Harris playing a key role, were one of the leading clubs right from the off. They won the first proper competition organised by the new body – the League of Ireland Shield – and finished in third in the League. The following season Shelbourne retained the Shield, and finished as League runners-up. Finally in 1925-26, after having finished runners-up again in 1924 and third in 1925, Shelbourne clinched their first League of Ireland title, along with another Shield. Harris remained an important part of the team despite being well past his fortieth birthday, and the same season was selected for two inter-League matches including in the League of Ireland’s 3-1 defeat of the Irish League at Dalymount Park.
Val Harris finally retired from playing at the end of the 1926-27 season after 31 goals in 196 appearances for Shelbourne in his second spell with them. He would later coach and manage Shelbourne, leading them to their first FAI Cup win in 1939. He was also team manager of the Irish Free State national team during the 1930’s.