Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire born outside left or centre forward Frank McPherson began his football career with the works team, Barrow Shipbuilders. In April 1919, towards the end of the 1918-19 season, he signed as an amateur for Scottish club Partick Thistle, and made one first team appearance, helping them to a fourth place finish in the Scottish First Division. McPherson returned to Barrow Shipbuilders at the end of the season, and played in their 1919-20 FA Cup Preliminary Round defeat to Kells White Star. However, in October 1919, he was signed by Midland League club Chesterfield Municipal, who, either ignoring his cup-tied status or unaware of it entirely, gave him his debut in their FA Cup second qualifying round match against South Normanton Colliery on 25th October.
Starting at centre forward, he scored twice as Chesterfield won 5-0. After the match, South Normanton submitted an appeal to The Football Association that McPherson should not have been allowed to play, resulting in Chesterfield being disqualified from the competition and McPherson being banned for a month. Chesterfield manager Tom Callaghan protested that he was unaware that McPherson had already played in the FA Cup that season, but McPherson maintained that he had told his manager he was not available for selection. Callaghan offered McPherson £5 to retract that claim, as well as ordering club captain Peter Irvine to back him up; however, he was found out and sacked from his position, never for the football world to hear from him again.
McPherson returned to action in a Midland League match against Mexborough Town on 29th November, scoring both Chesterfield goals in a 2-1 win. After two games out of the side, when regular half back Arthur Lacey took over at centre forward, McPherson returned for a 10 game spell at inside left, scoring five goals from that position. He was left out for the game away to Worksop Town, but returned for the next two games at home to Halifax Town and Worksop Town, before losing his position to Teddy Revill for the games against the Grimsby Town and Barnsley reserve teams. McPherson played out the season with seven consecutive matches at centre forward, scoring four more goals to finish with 11 League goals in 20 appearances as Chesterfield won The Midland League Championship.
McPherson lost his place in the Chesterfield first team to newly signed centre-forward Tom Smelt at the outset of the 1920-21 season, but Smelt only lasted one match in the position and McPherson was recalled. He played two games at centre forward then one in each of the inside forward positions, including Chesterfield’s 11-0 win over Dronfield Woodhouse in the FA Cup preliminary round on 25th September. However, he failed to score in those four games and did not feature again for another month, making a goalscoring return in a 3-2 defeat to Mexborough Town on 30th October. Despite the goal, he was dropped again for the FA Cup third qualifying round match against Staveley Town, before making his final two appearances for Chesterfield, first at centre forward at home to Sheffield United Reserves, then at outside left at home to Nottingham Forest Reserves. With just one goal in six League appearances in 1920-21, McPherson finished his Chesterfield career with a total of 12 goals in 26 appearances.
Having not played for Chesterfield for more than two months, McPherson returned to join hometown club Barrow in February 1921, and helped the team to win the Lancashire Combination title that season. At the end of the season, Barrow were elected as one of the founder members of the Football League Third Division (North), McPherson making his Football League debut at Durham City in September 1921. In that inaugural season, Barrow finished in 15th place out of the 20 teams, and the following year was even worse, finishing 18th. Playing mainly at outside left scored 3 goals in 58 appearances for The Bluebirds before being signed by Second Division Manchester United for a fee of £500 in May 1923.
Described while at United as “a daring raider… one of the fastest men in the game and leaves half backs wondering”, McPherson made his first team debut as an outside left in the first game of the 1923-24 season at Bristol City on 25th August. He played in all but eight games in his first season with Manchester United, including two appearances in the FA Cup, his two goals coming in consecutive matches, one against Bradford City in the League on 5th January 1924, and one against Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup on 12th January. All of his games that season were played at outside left, except the final two games of the season against The Wednesday, which he played at centreforward.
Despite that brief run out at centre forward, McPherson played exclusively at outside left in 1924-25, missing just four games. He was also more prolific as a goalscorer, his seven goals in 38 League appearances helping the club to promotion back to the First Division as Second Division runners up. He began the following season as the starting outside left, playing in the first seven games before the re-emergence of Harry Thomas cost him his place, starting with the game against Burnley on 26th September 1925. McPherson made a goalscoring return to the team as a centre forward on 24th October, scoring twice in a 2-0 away win over Cardiff City; he retained the number 9 shirt for much of the rest of the season, scoring a hat-trick in a win at Leicester City just before New Year, before a three game spell without scoring culminated in a 7-0 defeat away to Blackburn Rovers in April 1926; Charlie Rennox, Jimmy Hanson and Chris Taylor shared centr -forward duties for the remaining six games of the season. Despite being dropped for the final six games, McPherson finished the season with a career-high 20 goals, and played as Manchester United reached the FA Cup semi final before being knocked out by rivals Manchester City at Branall Lane. McPherson’s new-found scoring form was attributed to his pace, coupled with a change to the offside law, which now only required two defenders between the attacking player and the opposing goal line for the attacker to be onside.
McPherson’s form continued into the 1926-27 season, which began with him scoring seven goals in the first four games. To accommodate Joe Spence’s move to centre forward, McPherson moved back to outside left for the game against Burnley on 18th September 1926, before being dropped entirely for the next two games against Cardiff City and Aston Villa. The next few games saw McPherson and Spence alternate as centre forward, before McPherson reclaimed the position more permanently in mid-November, starting with a 3-2 win over Leicester City on 13th November in which he scored twice. He held onto the role for the next two months until the second replay of Manchester United’s FA Cup third round tie against Reading on 17th January 1927, after which he spent four games back at outside left. The second half of the season saw a stark difference from the first half; after scoring 16 times in 26 appearances up to 22nd January, McPherson failed to find the net for the rest of the season, and only appeared in nine of a potential 17 matches; he missed the game against Aston Villa on 19th February, before an unsettled run of four games in which he played twice at centre-forward and twice at inside left. He was dropped again for the game against The Wednesday on 26th March, and only appeared twice more in the final seven games of the season, against Leicester City on 2nd April and against Derby County on 15th April.
The 1927-28 season began with McPherson back at outside left for four straight games, but despite scoring in the fourth against The Wednesday on 7th September, he was dropped for the next three games. He returned to the side for a 10 game spell starting with a 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur on 24th September, scoring four goals in that time. After missing the game against Sheffield United on 10th December, he made a goalscoring return in a 4-1 win over Arsenal on 17th December. He was dropped again for the trip to Middlesbrough three games later on 31st December, before playing six games in a row from 7th January to 4th February, including three appearances at centre forward in FA Cup games against Brentford and Bury. After missing four games, including cup ties against Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers, he was restored to the outside left position for four games in March 1928; he made one final appearance for Manchester United at outside left in a 4-3 defeat at Bury on 14th April 1928.
After 53 goals in 175 appearances for Manchester United, McPherson joined Lancashire Combination side Manchester Central at the start of the 1928-29 season, from where he was signed by Watford for £850 in September 1928. He made his Watford debut at home to Fulham on 29th September, scoring both goals in a 6-2 defeat, before scoring a further three goals in the next two games. Despite his prodigious start in a Watford shirt, he missed their next match at home to Luton Town, but then went on an eight game run in which he scored a further twelve goals, including a hat-trick at home to Southend United. The next match – away to Northampton Town on 22nd December – was the last one McPherson would miss all season, and after two further hat-tricks away to Fulham on 9th February and at home to Walsall on 29th March, he finished the season with 35 goals in 37 appearances, a club record that stood until Cliff Holton scored 42 goals in Watford’s 1959-60 season.
McPherson was ever-present for the first 23 games of the 1929-30 season, and by 26th December, he had scored 22 of Watford’s 29 total goals up to that point including an FA Cup treble at Ilford; Arthur Woodward was the only other player to have scored more than once. The match against Torquay United on 28th December was McPherson’s first absence of the season. He made eight more appearances after his return, scoring three goals, before he was sold to Second Division club Reading for a fee of £1,500 and George James in part-exchange in February 1930 after scoring 59 goals in 68 appearances for The Hornets. He scored on his Royals debut in a win over Chelsea and twice more a week later in a win at Bury, and also scored a hat-trick in a 4-3 defeat at Southampton before the season end, but from November 1930 he only played at outside left as Reading suffered relegation in 1930-31. He missed much of the first half of the following season as Reading finished runners up in the Third Division (South), missing out on promotion, and only played sporadically in 1932-33, most of his appearances coming between October and the year end.
After a bit more than three years with Reading, scoring 32 goals in 87 appearances, McPherson returned to Watford in June 1933. He began the 1933-34 season with a run of six games in the team, scoring twice, but then made just one appearance in the next three months. He then had a short spell back in the team, playing three games towards the end of December, but it did not last and he only made one more appearance before the end of the season, in the penultimate game against Swindon Town on 28th April 1934; Watford won 4-0 with McPherson scoring twice.
McPherson began the 1934-35 campaign by playing in the first two games away to Bristol City and at home to Brighton & Hove Albion, but could not find the target and was not selected for the next 32 Watford matches. He made his comeback on 28th February, almost six months to the day after his last match, playing in Watford’s Third Division (South) Cup third round replay against Queens Park Rangers. He then missed another month before returning for the Third Division (South) Cup semi-final against Coventry City on 28th March; although he did not score and the match finished 0-0, McPherson scored both Watford goals in the replay the following week to earn them a place in the Final against Bristol Rovers, which Watford lost 3-2 at The Den, Millwall. These performances came as part of a seven game run in the team, including four lLague games, in which McPherson scored once more in a 5-2 away defeat to Charlton Athletic. The League game against Exeter City on 19th April was his last appearance of the season.
It took McPherson until 12th October to make his first appearance of the 1935-36 season, a 5-2 defeat at home to Newport County, but although he scored, he did not appear again for another three months. He made 15 more appearances that season, all consecutively between 15th January and 10th April, scoring nine goals, including a treble against Leicester City in the FA Cup; Leicester’s eventual 4-3 victory meant that McPherson’s hat-trick is believed to have made history as the first scored for a losing side in the FA Cup Proper. McPherson’s final appearance for Watford was a 2-1 home defeat to Notts County on 10 April. After 17 further goals in 38 more appearances for them, he was released by Watford at the end of the season and returned to Barrow-in-Furness, where he worked again in the shipyards. In March 1937, he re-signed for Barrow, where he saw out his career with a final two goals in three appearances before the end of the season.