Swinton, Yorkshire born centre forward Fred Tilson began his football career at Regent Street Congregationals of Barnsley in 1925 subsequently moved to Second Division Barnsley in March 1926, where he first played alongside Eric Brook. He made his Football League debut against Nottingham Forest that September, and by March 1928, after 24 goals in 64 appearances, Manchester City had stepped in for his signature, with Eric Brook following him to Maine Road two days later for a combined fee of £6,000, with Tilson playing 6 games as City wrapped up the Second Division Championship.
Over the next 10 seasons he scored 132 goals in 275 appearances for The Citizens. He scored 6 goals in the 1933 FA Cup run, but City, without Tilson, were beaten 3-0 by Everton in the Final at Wembley. A year later came Tilson’s career highlight. A first half goal down to Portsmouth in the 1934 FA Cup Final, Tilson struck in the 74th and 88th minutes to win the Cup. A month after the Final he was selected for England’s summer European tour and won his first two England caps in matches against Hungary and Czechoslovakia in May 1934, both games ending as 2-1 defeats with Tilson scoring both of England’s goals. He scored two goals that September as England won 4-0 against Wales at Ninian Park, Cardiff, and won his 4th and final cap, also scoring, as England beat Ireland 3-1 at Windsor Park, Belfast. He also made 3 appearances for The Football League.
He then scored 18 goals in the 1936-37 campaign as Manchester City won the League Championship, however he lost his place the following season and was transferred to Northampton Town with Keillor McCullough and Charles Rodger, in an exchange to bring Maurice Dunkley to Maine Road in March 1938 in what proved to be a relegation season for City.
He had just over a season at Northampton scoring 11 goals in 42 appearances for The Cobblers, before joining York City in the summer of 1939, for whom he played in their 3 League fixtures in the 1939-40 season before it was abandoned due to the outbreak of the Second World War.