A sublime dribbler and a master of ball control, Lisburn, County Down born inside forward Bobby Irvine was amongst the most gifted attacking players of his generation. He started his football career with junior clubs Wesley and Christ’s Church Lads’ Brigade, Lisburn, before playing for Hilden in September 1919, being on Belfast Celtic’s books from December 1919 before joining Irish Intermediate League club Dunmurry in February 1920. Signed by Everton for £500 in September 1921, he made his Football League debut in a 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield in November 1921. He quickly became a crowd favourite at Goodison, his bravery and determination coupled with his thrilling skills entertained the fans for six seasons. More of a creator than a scorer, Irvine normally played at inside right, but when deployed at centre forward he proved an effective goal-getter, best illustrated by a hat-trick against Aston Villa in January 1922.
First selected for Ireland in March 1922, Irvine played at centre forward in a 2-1 defeat by Scotland at Parkhead, indeed five of his first six caps were won leading the attack. An early personal best performance came with two goals in a 3-0 win over Wales in Wrexham, but he will be best remembered for his role in 2-1 and 2-0 defeats of England at Windsor Park in 1923 and 1927, and for his goal that gave Ireland a 3-2 lead at Anfield in 1926, only for the game to finish 3-3.
Troubled by injuries through a number of spells of his career, Irvine left Everton to join Portsmouth in March 1928 having made just nine appearances in what was a League Championship winning campaign for The Toffees, after 57 goals in 214 appearances, most of them at inside right. He made his Fratton Park debut in a 1-0 win over Manchester United on 17th March and when his new club reached the FA Cup Final in 1929, injury robbed him of a place in the Final line-up as they lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers, Irvine having featured in 4 matches in the earlier rounds. In August 1929, after 11 goals in 39 appearances, mainly playing inside left, Irvine joined Welsh club, Connah’s Quay, where he became the only player from that club to be capped for Ireland.
With Connah’s Quay suffering severe financial difficulties, Irvine joined Chester in December 1930 before he returned to Ireland, signing for Derry City in August 1931. He marked his Brandywell debut with a goal in a 1-0 Gold Cup quarter-final win over Larne on 3rd September 1931. With Derry, Irvine took his caps total to 15, his final cap for Ireland coming in December 1931 in a 4-0 win over Wales, and in October 1932 he also played twice for The Irish League, in 5-2 and 4-1 defeats by the English and Scottish Leagues respectively. With his playing days on the wane, it was written of him: “There is no man who takes harder knocks and squeals less than Irvine.”
Irvine returned to the England in May 1933 with Division Three (South) club, Watford, where he scored 3 goals in 24 appearances, mainly at inside left. He played his last Football League match in March 1934, before having spells with Waterford in 1935 and Brideville in February 1936. He later played as an amateur for Leicester Post Office Engineers from November 1936.