Blundellsands, Lancashire born half back Ralph Holden began his football career with St Helens Recreation, from where he was signed by First Division club Liverpool in December 1910, making his Football League debut in a 4-1 defeat at Manchester City in January 1913, Holden playing at left half in a match in which City centre forward Fred Howard had scored a hat-trick inside 13 minutes and scored all of their goals. The next season Holden played in a goalless draw with West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on 27th September 1913.
After just a pair of first team appearances, Holden was released in June 1914 to join Tranmere Rovers, who had just won their first Lancashire Combination title, and he captained Tranmere before his career was cut short by the onset of the First World War, which forced the suspension of peacetime football in May 1915.
Holden enlisted in the British Army under the Derby Scheme on 10th December 1915 in Bootle, Merseyside and was subsequently transferred to the Army Reserve. He was then mobilised on 29 November 1916 and posted to The Machine Gun Corps (MGC) on 1st December 1916. Later posted to 235th Machine Gun Company, Private 85939 Holden was appointed lance corporal on 12th July 1917 and was then promoted to the rank of corporal on 26th February 1918 when 12th Machine Gun Battalion was formed from the MGC of 12th (Eastern) Division.
The battalion were involved in heavy fighting during the German advance across the old Somme battlefields and fought in the Battle of Amiens in August 1918. Further actions at Meaulte, Mametz, Carnoy, Hardecourt and Faviere Wood followed, before they took part in the Battle of Epehy on 18th September. On 24th September, Holden was badly wounded in the face, arm and leg and was evacuated to 1st London General Hospital at Camberwell. He would subsequently lose his right leg after it was amputated at the thigh and was finally discharged on 15th August 1919.
On 3rd May 1919 Liverpool and Tranmere played a testimonial game for him at Prenton Park, which saw Tranmere beat Liverpool 2-0 in front of more than 5,000 spectators, where each Liverpool player donated £2 to the fund and where bags of 2 lb. sugar were auctioned off several times and a pipe raised £15.