Paisley, Renfrewshire born outside left Johnny Kelly began his football career with Petershill in 1936, playing for Mearns Amateurs the same year. In 1937 he joined Arthurlie where he won a Scottish junior international cap and from where he was signed by Glasgow Celtic in November 1938, making his Scottish League debut in a 2-1 win over Cowdenbeath in August 1939, a few days before the Second World War broke out and peacetime football was abandoned. He was to make a further 29 appearances in the Regional League for Celtic and scored three goals, one each against Dumbarton in a 4-0 win, Queen’s Park in a 4-4 draw, and Airdrie in a 4-2 win. Having been displaced by Matt Lynch in the 1940-41 season, he was allowed to join Greenock Morton in September 1941, helping Morton finish runners up to Rangers in the 1942-43 season and developing into a top class winger.
After being capped against England in an unofficial wartime international earlier in 1945, Kelly joined Second Division Barnsley from Morton in December that year and made his debut in an FA Cup tie at Newcastle United the next month, helping Barnsley progress to the Fifth Round where they were knocked out by Bradford Park Avenue over two legs. His Football League debut for Barnsley came against Nottingham Forest at the end of August 1946 in Barnsley’s first post-war League fixture, and he remained a regular fixture in Barnsley’s team for 7 seasons although he missed most of 1951 with injury.
Kelly was rewarded for his club form with two full Scottish international caps, making his debut in a 3-1 win over Wales at Ninian Park, Cardiff in October 1948, and playing the following month in a 3-2 win over Ireland at Hampden Park as the Scots recovered from conceding two goals to Davy Walsh in the opening five minutes.
After Barnsley’s relegation in 1953, Kelly returned north to join Falkirk, having scored 26 goals in 229 appearances for The Tykes, and two years later he returned to Morton, having a further season at Cappielow before a return to English football in July 1956 when he signed for Halifax Town, already well into his mid-thirties. He scored twice in 39 appearances for The Shaymen before moving to Irish League club Portadown in 1958 before finishing his career by returning to Scottish non league football with Ayrshire club Dairy Thistle in 1959.