Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire born inside right Bob Kelly is for my money one of the quintessential and iconic footballers of the 1920’s game, who became a manager after a distinguished career and made over 600 appearances in League football. His career started in junior football playing for Ashton White Star in 1910, Ashton Central in 1911, Earlestown Rovers in 1912 and St Helens Town in August 1913 before signing with Burnley on 1st November 1913 for £275, making his Football League debut the same month against Aston Villa and marking it with a goal. Burnley won the FA Cup the following April but Kelly was not involved and only really established himself in the first team in 1914-15, when he scored 12 goals in 30 games as they finished 4th in the First Division before the onset of the First World War forced the suspension of peacetime football.
During the War he served with the Royal Field Artillery and after the War he resumed with Burnley, helping them to League runners up in 1919-1920, winning the first of his 14 England caps in April 1920, scoring 2 goals in a 5-4 win over Scotland at Hillsborough, followed by a goal in a 2-0 win against Ireland at Roker Park that October. He was capped at least once every year until his final England appearance in March 1928 in the “Wembley Wizards” defeat to Scotland, scoring England’s goal and his 8th for his country. Like many others who played in the match, it would prove their last international although he was recalled to the England squad in 1930 when he was a non playing reserve was additionally reserve on 6 other occasions, and he also made 7 appearances for The Football League. His goal in the Wembley Wizards match made him England’s oldest goalscorer, aged 34 years 136 days, a record that stood until October 1956 when Stanley Matthews scored against Ireland.
Having finished runners up the previous season, Burnley went one better in 1920-21 being crowned League Champions with Kelly scoring 23 goals in the campaign, the best return of his career, including 4 goals in a 7-1 thumping of Oldham Athletic in November 1920, and though the club’s form waned after 1922 Kelly continued to be a crucial component, recognised by Sunderland smashing the British transfer record to sign him for £6,550 in November 1925 after 97 goals in 299 games for The Clarets. His spell at Sunderland was only 15 months and 55 games long, Kelly scoring 15 goals, before he signed for Huddersfield Town in February 1927 for another hefty fee, this time £3,500.
At Leeds Road he went one better than Sunderland’s 3rd place finish the year before, being runners up in the League in both 1927 and 1928, with Kelly reaching the FA Cup Final at Wembley in 1928 and 1930, losing both Finals to Blackburn Rovers and Arsenal respectively, also between times losing the 1929 semi final to eventual winners Bolton Wanderers at Anfield, his second semi final defeat, having played for Burnley in the 1924 semi final when they lost to Aston Villa at Bramall Lane.
With Kelly missing few games Huddersfield still managed 5th and 4th placed finishes in 1931 and 1932 before he was sold to Second Division Preston North End in July after 42 goals in 213 games, where he was made club captain a month later. He helped Preston to promotion in 1934 as Second Division runners up but back in the top flight he found opportunities increasingly limited and joined Carlisle in February 1935 as player manager after 19 goals in 84 games at Deepdale.
He played only 12 times for Carlisle retiring before the year end, having scored once, but stayed as manager from March 1935 until November the following year, when he became manager of Stockport County for a further two years until July 1938, leading them to the Third Division (North) Championship in 1937. After the Second World War he was manager of a variety of clubs including Sporting Lisbon from 1946 to 1947, St Gallen in Switzerland from 1949 to 1951. Heerenveen in The Netherlands from 1951 to 1955, then joining AZ Alkmaar as their manager for a spell, and finally Barry Town from 1960 to 1961.
What I think is most fascinating about Kelly is the way his face changes over time from fresh faced youth to battle hardened bruiser. Football was a tough business. Also it’s notable that he played for many of the biggest names of the 1920’s and 1930’s, yet by and large those clubs were in some of their finest eras when Kelly was playing for them.