A product of junior football in the Derry area, Londonderry, Ireland born centre forward Pat Nelis started his career with Londonderry Distillery in 1919, and soon took the bold decision to try his luck with Football League new boys Accrington Stanley, joining them in October 1921. His impact on Division Three (North) was immediate, and he scored fourteen times in just eleven games including a hat-trick on his Football League debut against Durham City on November 5th and another against Wigan Borough in February 1922.
Consequently, after just six months as a professional footballer he was the subject of a £2,000 bid from Nottingham Forest in March 1922. That fee, a then record for a third-tier player, took Nelis to a Forest side on the brink of promotion to the First Division. His six goals, including two against Bradford Park Avenue on his debut, helped confirm the Second Division Championship title, and after just a season in England Nelis was about to appear at the highest level.
An intelligent forward with good pace and a strong right foot shot, Nelis was rewarded with an international call-up in October 1922. He led the line as Ireland lost 2-0 to England at The Hawthorns in what proved to be his only international appearance. In the First Division he was finding the going tougher than before and in three seasons he scored just seven times, usually from centre forward or inside left. Forest were relegated back to the Second Division in 1925.
Nelis was cleared out after 13 goals in 60 appearances, back to Division Three (North) joining Wigan Borough in June 1925. He spent a single season at Springfield Park, scoring just once in 16 appearances, before returning to Ireland, signing for Coleraine. Nelis was a member of the Coleraine side that first appeared in the Irish League for the 1927-28 season. He quickly made his mark and represented The Irish League at inside left against The Scottish League at Solitude, Belfast in October 1927, and he finished the season as the club’s top scorer with 16 goals. He remained with Coleraine until his retirement in 1932.