Fred Tilson is the only England international to have scored more goals than he played matches and was also the scorer of the winning goal in the cup final that saw Manchester City beat Portsmouth to claim their second Cup in the thirty-years of their short history.
In 1928 Tilson and his friend Eric Brook joined City from Barnsley for a joint fee of £6,000 and that season the club won the Second Division championship. In his second season he played 22 times and scored 12 goals making him City’s third highest goalscorer behind Tommy Johnson who scored a club record of 38 goals and Brook who scored 14 goals.
Manchester City finished in 3rd place in the 1929-30 season. Tilson was in and out of the side but when he was selected he did well scoring seven goals in 11 games. It was not until the 1931-32 season that he made the inside-left position his own with 13 goals in 37 games. City managed to reach the semi-final of the FA Cup that year but were defeated by Arsenal 1–0.
In the 1932–1933 season Tilson was the club’s leading goalscorer with 23 goals in all competitions including 17 league goals and 6 FA Cup goals. In the 1933 FA Cup final Manchester City were defeated by Everton who were captained by England international Dixie Dean. Tilson did not play in the final of that year’s competition.
In that cup run, Tilson scored a hat-trick in the club’s 9-0 victory over Gateshead. Brook scored both goals against Walsall (2-0) and a hat-trick against Bolton Wanderers (4-2). Tilson scored against Burnley (1-0) and Derby County (3-2) and Manchester City reached the final at Wembley. The Everton team that day included players such as Dixie Dean, Cliff Britton, Ted Sager and Albert Geldard. With Tilson missing because of injury City lost the game 3-0.
In the next season City played Portsmouth in the 1934 FA Cup final at Wembley. Tilson had such a terrible injury record that when Sam Cowan introduced him to King George VI before the game, he said:
“This is Tilson, your Majesty. He’s playing today with two broken legs.”
It was a good job that Tilson did play as he scored both of the goals in the 2-1 victory.
Tilson made his debut for England in a 2–1 defeat to Hungary in May 1934. He won four caps for his country and scored six goals. He may have won more caps for England but suffered from injuries and faced competition from George Camsell, Tom Waring and Ted Drake.
In the 1935–1936 season Tilson was City’s top scorer with 18 goals and City finished fourth in the league, ten points behind champions Arsenal. Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday also finished higher than City but the club were edging closer to their first league championship.
In the 1936–1937 season Tilson was part of the first Manchester City side to win the League Championship. Before the start of the season, manager Wilf Wild purchased Peter Doherty from Blackpool for a club record fee of £10,000. City won the First Division title in the 1936-37 season and Doherty ended up as the top scorer with 30 goals. Tilson notched an impressive 15 goals in 23 games.
After continuing to battle injuries in his final two seasons with the club, manager Wilf Wild opted to sell him to Northampton for £10,000 in March 1938.
Fred Tilson takes his place in club folklore as one of the finest players to represent City despite a career ravaged by injury. Nonetheless he managed to score 110 goals during his time at Maine Road in just 245 games. He returned to the club from 1947 until 1968 where he held positions as chief scout, coach, caretaker manager and assistant manager.