Glasgow born left back John Steel began his football career with First Division amateur club Queen’s Park for whom he made his Scottish League debut against Clydebank in August 1919. In a single season with The Spiders he scored once, in a defeat at Hibernian in April 1920, in 41 appearances before a move to Third Lanark in the 1920 close season, where he made 12 appearances for The Warriors during their 1920-21 campaign.
He was then signed by newly elected Third Division (North) club Nelson in July 1921, for whom he made his Football League debut in their inaugural League fixture against Wigan Borough that August. A regular during Nelson’s first two League campaigns, he helped them to win the Third Division (North) Championship in 1922-23 but lost his place after one Second Division match in August 1923 and returned to Scotland to join Arthurlie in 1924 after 52 appearances for The Admirals.
Steel returned to Football League action the following year. After an unsuccessful trial with Arsenal the previous month, he signed for Third Division (South) club Brentford where he played in all 16 of their matches from the end of January to the end of the season, 10 of which were lost as Brentford narrowly avoided having to seek re-election, finishing 21st in the division. He was not retained and the rest of his football career is uncertain.