Blackburn Rovers had experienced a great deal of success under Tom Mitchell, Blackburn's club secretary/manager. However, in October, 1896, Mitchell resigned. His replacement was Joseph Walmsley, a local cotton mill manager. It seemed Blackburn missed Mitchell as they slumped to 14th place in the First Division of the Football League in the 1896-97 season.
In the 1897-98 season Blackburn Rovers finished second from bottom. Only a decision to increase the size of the First Division of the Football League to 18 clubs saved Blackburn from relegation. The following season saw a revival with the team finishing in a respectable 6th place.
Blackburn found itself in another relegation struggle in the 1899-1900 season. The club had to win one of its last two games against Notts County and Preston North End in order to avoid the drop to the Second Division. Blackburn lost to Preston but managed to beat Notts County 2-0.
The Blackburn Times criticized the performance of the Blackburn team arguing: "There can be no such thing as standing still in the football world as in many other things, and as the Rovers have not made headway they must have been going backwards. Alas, this is only too plain. The rovers of today are not the Rovers of yore, when their fame spread far and wide".
In 1902 Houlker won his first international cap for England. Playing at left-half he joined Bob Crompton in the team that drew with Scotland 2-2. Soon afterwards Houlker joined Portsmouth in the Southern League. In his six years at Blackburn Rovers he scored two goals in 121 games.
Houlker rejoining Blackburn Rovers for the 1906-07 season. However, now aged 34, he was passed his best and only managed 31 more games over the next two years.
Kelly Houlker died in 1962.