Waddington, Lancashire born goalkeeper James Mitchell (sometimes known as Fred as per his middle name), noted for wearing spectacles, started his career with Football League outfit Blackpool, joining them in the 1914-15 season at the age of 17. He made his Football League debut in a goalless draw against Lincoln City in March 1915, deputising for Jimmy Kidd, and played five League matches for the club before peacetime football was suspended.
Mitchell’s career was interrupted by the First World War. He played for Blackpool in the first nine games of the 1915-16, in the Principal Competition, Lancashire Section, after which Kidd took over for the remaining 27 games. After the war, he joined Northern Nomads who played in the Lancashire Combination. He also played for Manchester University while he attended, and made his debut for the England Amateur team in November 1919 in a 5-0 win over Ireland at The Baseball Ground in Derby. He won a second England cap in a 9-0 win over Wales in January 1920 at Merthyr Tydfil, and also kept goal for Great Britain that August in the 1920 Olympic Games when they lost 3-1 to Norway in Antwerp. In total he won 6 England Amateur international caps and also played for The Amateurs in the 1924 Charity Shield when they lost 3-1 to The Professionals at Highbury.
Eventually he signed amateur forms for Preston North End in October 1920 In his first season with the club, he played just seven matches, five of them in the League. In the following season, he made 16 League appearances and played six FA Cup matches including the 1922 FA Cup Final, which was held on 29th April 1922 at Stamford Bridge. Preston North End, playing against Huddersfield Town, lost 1-0 after Billy Smith scored a penalty in the 67th minute. Mitchell wore spectacles in the match.
Mitchell left Preston in May 1922 after 29 appearances to join Manchester City and between 1922 and 1926, he played a total of 109 games for Manchester City, 99 of them in the Football League, sharing goalkeeping duties with Jim Goodchild. In October 1924 he won a full England cap keeping goal in a 3-1 victory over Ireland at Goodison Park.
He played 17 times in the League as Manchester City were relegated to the Football League Second Division at the end of the 1925-26 campaign and wasn’t selected for the 1926 FA Cup Final when Goodchild was preferred. After leaving the club in October 1926, Mitchell spent one season with Leicester City. However, he failed to make a first team appearance for the club, and retired from professional football in 1927.