Newbiggin, County Durham born centre forward Ralph Shields played football for his local junior club Newbiggin Athletic in the Wansbeck League. In 1913, he was playing for Choppington Alliance when he was spotted by Newcastle United and was transferred to the club for a fee of £40 on 30th October 1913. Shields didn’t make a senior appearance for Newcastle United and in May 1914, Second Division club Huddersfield Town paid a £100 fee for his signature, Shields making his Football League debut against Nottingham Forest in September 1914. His 16 goal return from 29 matches in his debut season included a hat-trick in a 5-3 win over Bristol City in April 1915, and he was The Terriers’ top goalscorer for the season, however the onset of the First World War led to the suspension of peacetime football at the end of the season.
During the War he served as a bombardier in the Royal Field Artillery, and returned to Leeds Road in its aftermath in 1919 for the resumption of peacetime football. Playing mainly at inside right he scored 4 goals in 14 appearances as Huddersfield Town were promoted to the top flight as Second Division runners up, but he couldn’t get into the first team with any regularity the following season, scoring twice in 4 First Division matches. and Shields joined Exeter City in December 1920 as part of the deal that took William Wright in the opposite direction. The fee for Wright was believed to be £3,000, whilst Shields reportedly cost £500.
He then scored 4 goals in 20 appearances for The Grecians during the rest of the season before transferring to Brentford in the 1921 close season, scoring once in 9 appearances for The Bees during 1921-22 before joining Kent League club Sittingbourne in 1922. He finished his career by moving back to the North East to play for Blyth Spartans in the North Eastern League for the 1926-27 season before emigrating to Australia.
On 30th June 1940, nine months after the outbreak of the Second World War, he attested in the Australian Army in Paddington and gave a false birth date of 11th September 1900, which produced an age just shy of the limit of 40. In 1942, while serving with the Australian Army Service Corps in Malaya, Shields was captured by the Imperial Japanese Army and interred as a POW in Sandakan Prisoner of War Camp, North Borneo. He died aged 52 of malnutrition and beriberi on 21st November 1944 and was buried at the Labuan War Cemetery in Malaysia.