Coatbridge, Lanarkshire born inside forward Johnnie Rankin began his football career with Bellshill Athletic in 1921 before joining Scottish League Hamilton Academical in 1922. He joined Third Division (North) Doncaster Rovers in 1924, making his Football League debut against Darlington that December and played 7 times before returning to Scotland to join Dundee early in 1925.
He returned to the Football League in the summer joining Charlton Athletic, spending 5 seasons at The Valley scoring 37 goals in 204 appearances and winning the Third Division (South) Championship with them in 1928-29. After a season in the Second Division he was signed by First Division Chelsea in the summer of 1930, and he spent the next 4 years at Stamford Bridge scoring 9 goals in 66 appearances for The Pensioners. But having lost his place in 1933 he moved to Notts County in the summer of 1934, where he spent a further two seasons scoring twice in 26 appearances before joining non league Burton Town in 1936.