John (Jack) Fairbrother was born in Burton on 16th August, 1917. He played for Burton Town before joining Preston North End in 1937. However, he found it difficult to displace Preston's regular goalkeeper, George Holdcroft.
On Friday, 1st September, 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland. The football that Saturday went ahead as Neville Chamberlain did not declare war on Germany until Sunday, 3rd September. The government immediately imposed a ban on the assembly of crowds and as a result the Football League competition was brought to an end.
Jack Fairbrother and his friend, Willie Hamilton joined the Blackburn Police Force on the outbreak of the war. This enabled him to continue playing for Preston North End during the war.
The government gave permission for football clubs to play friendly matches. In the interests of public safety, the number of spectators allowed to see these games was limited to 8,000. These arrangements were later revised, and clubs were allowed gates of 15,000 from tickets purchased on the day of the game through the turnstiles.
Fairbrother was a member of the Preston North End team that won the North Regional League title in 1941. It has been argued by Jack Rollin (Soccer at War: 1939-45) that: "The first club to benefit from a youth policy to any marked degree was Preston North End, who owed success in 1940-41 to their exceptional pre-war structure."
Preston North End also took part in the 1941 Football League War Cup. Preston beat Bury, Bolton, Tranmere, Manchester City and Newcastle to reach the final. The Preston team that faced Arsenal at Wembley on 31st May was: Jack Fairbrother, Frank Gallimore, William Scott, Bill Shankly, Tom Smith, Andrew Beattie, Tom Finney, Andrew McLaren, Jimmy Dougal, Robert Beattie and Hugh O'Donnell.
The game took place in front of a 60,000 crowd. Arsenal was awarded a penalty after only three minutes but Leslie Compton hit the foot of the post with the spot kick. Soon afterwards Andrew McLaren scored from a pass from Tom Finney. Preston dominated the rest of the match but Dennis Compton managed to get the equaliser just before the end of full-time.
The replay took place at Ewood Park, the ground of Blackburn Rovers. The first goal was as a result of a move that included Tom Finney and Jimmy Dougal before Robert Beattie put the ball in the net. Frank Gallimore put through his own goal but from the next attack, Beattie scored again. It was the final goal of the game and Preston ended up the winners of the cup.
Jack Fairbrother made his Football League debut for Preston North End on the opening day of the 1946-47 season. Fairbrother was known as a joker and used to wear his white police gloves during matches. He only missed one game that season and played an important role in helping Preston to finish 7th in the First Division.
In the close season Newcastle United paid £6,500 for Fairbrother. He was their first choice keeper for the next four seasons and played in his club's 1951 FA Cup Final 2-0 victory over Blackpool. However, he eventually lost his place to Ronnie Simpson after breaking his collar bone.
After retiring from the game, Fairbrother was manager of Peterborough United and Coventry City. He later retired to Titchmarsh in Northamptonshire.