Tynemouth born inside forward Jimmy McIlvenny started playing football with north east junior club Willington Athletic in 1909, moving to North Eastern League South Shields a year later. His performances soon came to the attention of First Division Bradford City, who signed him in 1911, aged 18. He made his Bradford City debut at Arsenal on the auspicious date 11.ii.11 (11th February 1911), the game proved a less interesting 0-0 draw! Although Bradford City won the FA Cup in April 1911, McIlvenny wasn’t selected. Indeed during his first three seasons opportunities were limited and he played just 17 games scoring one goal, the winning strike in a 1-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers at Valley Parade later that same month. By the 1913-14 season he started to feature more in the side, and he scored three goals in another 17 appearances. In the last season before League football was abandoned due to the outbreak of the First World War he scored four goals in 30 League appearances. It was during the war that McIlvenny started to show his goal-scoring touch.
He scored 20 goals in 25 games in 1915-16, including five against both Hull City in an 8-4 win, and against Rochdale in a 5–0 victory. He scored another two hat-tricks the following season among 26 goals from 32 games, before scoring another 12 from 28 in 1917-18. He managed just seven goals from 26 in the final season before league football returned, giving him an impressive total return of 65 goals from 111 wartime appearances.
The first season after the war was his most productive in peacetime football when he was the club’s top goal-scorer with 13 goals from 31 games during 1919-20. His return dropped to four from 31 in 1920-21 before he made just six appearances, scoring one goal in 1921-22 as Bradford City lost their top-flight status.
He was given a benefit match in February 1921 against West Bromwich Albion, before being sold to Blackpool in May 1922. McIlvenny finished his City career with 26 goals from 143 appearances, but when combined with wartime appearances, his 91 goals has only been surpassed by Bobby Campbell at City.
In 17 appearances for Blackpool, McIlvenny scored four goals in just over a month: at Fulham in a 1-1 draw on 18th November 1922; in the return game at Bloomfield Road seven days later in a 3-0 win for Blackpool; at home to Crystal Palace in a 4-0 victory for the hosts on 2nd December; and at home to Leicester in a 2-1 defeat on Boxing Day. His last ever appearance was on 21st March 1923, in a single-goal defeat at his former club, South Shields. He retired at the end of the season.
McIlvenny’s son, Harry, was also a professional footballer who played for Bradford Park Avenue and Bishop Auckland.