Bonhill, Dunbartonshire born wing half James Sharp started his football career with Jamestown Athletic in 1889 and joined local professional club Vale of Leven in 1890, before moving south to join former Football League Champions Preston North End in the summer of 1891. He made his Football League debut at Notts County the same September, scoring twice in 23 appearances over the League and Cup campaigns as Preston finished runners up in the League Championship. He returned to Vale of Leven in 1892 spending a season back in the Scottish League but again re-joined Preston in 1893, scoring twice in 78 appearances over the next 3 seasons for the Deepdale club before joining Lancashire rivals Darwen in the summer of 1896.
He had a single season in the Second Division with Darwen, scoring twice in 24 appearances, before moving to Southern League Reading in 1897. By 1900 he had become secretary-manager of Reading, a position he continued to hold until 1902.