He obtained his first international cap on 31st March, 1888, when he played for England against Ireland. Later that year, William McGregor, a director of Aston Villa, circulated a letter suggesting that "ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season."
In April, 1888 the Football League was formed. It consisted of six clubs from Lancashire (Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, Everton and Preston North End) and six from the Midlands (Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers).
The first season of the Football League began in September, 1888. Preston North End won the first championship without losing a single match. A left-back, Holmes played in all 22 games. He also played in 19 games the following season when Preston retained the title. The team became known as the "Invincibles".
Holmes was also a member of the team that won the FA Cup Final against Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1889. Holmes made seven appearances for England and was captain in the country's 6-0 victory over Wales in 1894. He was never on the losing side when he played for his country.
In September, 1893, Derby County proposed that the Football League should impose a maximum wage of £4 a week. At the time, most players were only part-time professionals and still had other jobs. These players did not receive as much as £4 a week and therefore the matter did not greatly concern them. However, a minority of players, were so good they were able to obtain as much as £10 a week. This proposal posed a serious threat to their income.
Some of these top players joined together to form a trade union. This included Bob Holmes and Jimmy Ross of Preston North End, John Devey of Aston Villa, John Somerville of Bolton Wanderers, Hugh McNeill of Sunderland, Harry Woods of Wolverhampton Wanderers and John Cameron of Everton.
In February 1898, these players announced the formation of Association Footballers' Union (AFU). John Bell became chairman of the union. The secretary of the AFU, John Cameron, announced that the union had 250 members. Cameron pointed out that their main objective was that they "wanted any negotiations regarding transfers to be between the interested club and the player concerned - not between club and club with the player excluded".
The AFU was badly wounded by the decision of several members of the committee to seek higher wages in the Southern League. This included the AFU secretary John Cameron, who joined Tottenham Hotspur for the 1898-99 season. Tom Bradshaw also joined Spurs, whereas other leading figures in the union who left the Football League included Harry Wood and Abe Hartley (Southampton), Johnny Holt (Reading) and John Bell and David Storrier who joined Celtic.
Bob Holmes, who became the chairman of the AFU, gave an interview to the Lancashire Daily Post where he admitted the union was in serious trouble: "I am not quite sure that we shall succeed in attaining all the objects with which we set out; it is not a certainty that we shall carry any... The break-up of the Everton team as we knew it last season may have a good deal in influencing the future of the Union. With John Cameron, Jack Bell, Robertson, Holt, Stewart, Storrier, Meecham of Everton as well as Hartley and Bradshaw of Liverpool gone, our centre has lost strength. Liverpool was our headquarters, you know, and our registered offices were there. But the secretary, John Cameron, has gone to London and Bell the chairman will not, as far as I know, play for anybody."
Holmes retired from professional football at the end of the 1899-90 season. However, he continued to turn-out as an amateur and played the last of his 300 league games on 26th December, 1902, against Manchester City.
In December 1900, Holmes opened a business in Preston town centre. He also worked as a football coach and in April 1908, he was appointed trainer to the English amateur international team. Holmes worked for Bradford City before becoming trainer of Blackburn Rovers in 1909. Holmes was trainer/manager of the Blackburn side that won the league championship in 1912.
Holmes took a keen interest in women's football and joined his former team-mates, Johnny Morley, Billy Greer and Jack Warner to coach Dick Kerr Ladies. In a charity match that took place under floodlights on 16th December, 1920, at Deepdale, Holmes had the responsibility of providing whitewashed balls at regular intervals.
Bob Holmes was the last surviving member of the "Preston Invincibles" when he died aged 88 in November, 1955.
I am not quite sure that we shall succeed in attaining all the objects with which we set out; it is not a certainty that we shall carry any... The break-up of the Everton team as we knew it last season may have a good deal in influencing the future of the Union. With John Cameron, Jack Bell, Robertson, Holt, Stewart, Storrier, Meecham of Everton as well as Hartley and Bradshaw of Liverpool gone, our centre has lost strength. Liverpool was our headquarters, you know, and our registered offices were there. But the secretary, John Cameron, has gone to London and Bell the chairman will not, as far as I know, play for anybody."
The official website of the Football League claims that the first football manager to bring in night matches, under floodlight, was Herbert Chapman of Huddersfield, in the late 1920s. In fact, it had been tried before, in Birmingham and Lincoln but the lighting wasn't powerful enough to make the game visible, and maybe Herbert was the first manager to introduce floodlit football on a regular basis, but Alfred Frankland and a squad of engineers from Dick, Kerr's English Electric factory actually managed to make floodlit football a possibility. The unique relationship which existed between the company and the Army barracks at Fulwood was the key, and Dick, Kerr's engineers came up with the solution. Two Army surplus searchlights should do the trick. So, these were duly ordered from the War Office - can you believe it? - and were delivered to the Preston railway station the day before. To augment those, 40 carbide flares were put into position around the edge of the pitch, also supplied by Frankland's contacts in Fulwood barracks. Flares were placed at the turnstiles and to celebrate this extraordinary occasion not one, but three brass bands were requisitioned to lead torch-lit processions of spectators to the ground. And the Pathe News team was alerted to this experimental exercise in pre Christmas jollity and turned out to make of it what they could.As a spectacle, it was far more exciting than any of the previous Christmas processions and celebrations for which Lancashire is famous. Men in flat caps, women in large hats, small children skipping along, processed to the Deepdale ground, so that later they could tell their own children, 'I was there when we played football by searchlight!'The Ladies too, were excited, all of a fluster and a giggle. Back to their old selves. Lily did her Blind-Man's Buff impression, mimicking searching for little Jennie Harris through the dark by touch only. The opposing team was to be `The Rest of Lancashire' and included two St Helens girls who had been tempted by the prospect of hunt the football. It could all have gone horribly wrong, but I doubt it, because even horribly wrong would have been funny.And it was. Hilarious mayhem ensued. Picture it - on the touchline was the famous Bob Holmes whom I've mentioned before, throwing whitewashed balls on to the pitch, in the stands were scores of big lusty Lancashire lasses with their husbands, doubled up with laughter, and on the pitch were Lily and Alice and the others, wondering what damage they could do in the darkness. Except that it wasn't dark. It was glaringly bright, until one of the searchlights got an airlock and went out barely into the first half. Then one of the searchlight operators from the factory became very excited by a defensive tackle, and turned up his searchlight so strongly that both attacker and defender were temporarily blinded and keeled over. Then Jennie Harris, as willing as ever, kept making searching runs up the left, only to be halted by the sudden glare of flash-bulbs and skied the ball from 5 yards out.