A right-back, Somerville was such a consistent player he was given the nickname "Surefoot". In the 1890-91 Bolton finished in 5th place of the First Division with 25 points. The following season they finished in 3rd place obtaining 36 points in 26 games.
In the 1893-94 season, Bolton beat Small Heath (4-3), Newcastle United (2-1), Liverpool (3-0) and Sheffield Wednesday (3-2) to reach the 1894 FA Cup Final. Unfortunately, Bolton lost to Notts County 4-1 in the final at Goodison Park.
Bolton Wanderers finished 10th (1894-95), 4th (1895-96), 8th (1896-97) and 11th (1897-98). In 1898 season Somerville was employed as Bolton's player-manager. Unfortunately, in his first season in charge the club finished 17th and was relegated to the Second Division.
In 1899-1900 Bolton finished second to Sheffield Wednesday and returned to the First Division. Laurie Bell was top scorer that season with 23 goals. Somerville retired as a player at the end of the season. He had played 293 cup and league games for the club.
Somerville remained as manager. The club continued to struggle in the top tier and in the 1902-03 season they finished bottom and was once again relegated. Bolton kept faith with Somerville and in the 1904-05 season the club finished second to Liverpool and was promoted back to the First Division. Bolton had two good seasons where they finished 6th before being relegated again in the 1907-08 season. Bolton bounced back by winning the Second Division championship in the 1908-09 season.
Once again Bolton Wanderers struggled in the top tier and in January 1910, with the club firmly entrenched at the bottom of the First Division, John Somerville was sacked and replaced by Miles Settle. Somerville became a Football League linesman after leaving the club.