Left half Albert “Kelly” Houlker was born in Blackburn and started his long playing career at Blackburn Hornets in 1892, progressing through a variety of local sides in his home town (including Oswaldtwistle Rovers, Cob Wall and Park Road) before joining Blackburn Rovers in August 1894. He made his Rovers debut at Bolton Wanderers in September 1896. His time at Blackburn Rovers was during a long lean period for the club and several narrow escapes from relegation. During the 1896-97 season they stayed in the First Division only as the result of a decision to increase the number of teams.
He won his first representative honour when he was selected to play for The Football League in a 6-3 victory over The Scottish League at St James’ Park, Newcastle in March 1902.
Houlker won his first England cap against Scotland two days before he left Rovers to join Southern League Champions Portsmouth on 2nd May 1902, against Scotland at Aston Villa’s ground. He had in fact played a month earlier for England at Ibrox Park in the abandoned first game when one of the stands collapsed, killing 25 people and injuring over 500, however this game was declared void and caps were not awarded. His second cap came against Wales on 2nd March 1903 in the only international played at Fratton Park, Portsmouth followed by another cap against Scotland at Bramall Lane a month later.
Houlker then moved along the south coast to join newly crowned Southern League Champions Southampton in May 1903 after a single goal in 23 appearances for Pompey. He remained at The Dell for three seasons scoring 3 times in 59 Southern League appearances, playing alongside Bert Lee and Tommy Bowman to help The Saints to retain the Southern League Championship in 1903-04.
Tenacious and strong, rather than necessarily clever, Houlker became very popular with the Southampton public and during his time at The Dell he also won two more England caps against Ireland and Wales in 1906. In May 1906 he intended to retire from professional football but was persuaded to rejoin Blackburn Rovers where he played a further three seasons before he joined non league Colne in September 1909 after 2 goals in 164 appearances during his two spells at Ewood Park. He played for Colne until at least November 1911.
During the First World War he played for Blackburn Rovers in a wartime match when he was 45, playing as an emergency back-up in January 1918 and again in March 1918, a month short of his 46th birthday.