Ernest Needham was born at Whittington Manor on 21st January 1873. He played local football for Waverley and Staveley before joining Sheffield United in 1892.
A left-half, Needham made his debut in the 1892-93 season and played an important role in the club's promotion to the First Division of the Football League.
An outstanding player, he won his first international cap against Scotland on 7th April, 1894. England drew the game 2-2. The following season he was appointed captain Sheffield United. Over the next couple of years the club recruited some top players including William Foulke, Ernest Needham, Walter Bennett and George Hedley.
In 1895 Needham had his wages increased to £3 a week, which included a retainer wage over the summer. Needham and his team mates were also paid a ten-shilling (50p) bonus for an away win, and five shillings for a home win or away draw. Records show that for key games the players were paid £5 for a win. At the time, the average wage of a working man was about £1. However, someone with specialist skills could earn up to £2.50 a week.
In the 1896-97 season Sheffield United were runners-up behind the double-winning Aston Villa. The team conceded just 29 goals throughout the campaign and the club had easily the best defensive record in the Football League.
Sheffield United, led by Ernest Needham, won the First Division championship of the Football League in the 1897-1898 season. The club struggled the following year in the league but the team beat Derby County in the 1899 FA Cup Final.
The following season Needham was a member of the Sheffield United team that reached the 1901 FA Cup Final against Tottenham Hotspur. Needham and the other players were on a £10 win bonus. However, the Southern League side was on a promise of £25 a man if they won the cup. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. However, Spurs won the replay 3-1.
In 1901 Ernest Needham published the book Association Football. It included chapters on Football as Sport, Forwards and Forward Play, Back and Half-Back Play, Training and Captaincy, The League and its Successes, Past and Present Football and Some Promising Players. It also provided an account of the 1900-01 season.
Needham was a member of the Sheffield United team that played Southampton in the 1902 FA Cup Final. Sheffield took an early lead but Southampton scored a controversial equalizer and the game was drawn. C. B. Fry wrote in the Southern Echo: "The outstanding feature of the match was the grand goalkeeping of Foulke. he made a number of good saves, and on two or three occasions cleared the ball from what appeared impossible positions. Once, near the end, from a corner, he effected an absolute miracle with four or five men right on to him."
William Foulke was furious that the equalizing goal had been given after the game he went searching for the referee. The linesman, J. T. Howcroft, described how Frederick Wall, secretary of the Football Association, tried to placate the goalkeeper: "Foulke was exasperated by the goal and claimed it was in his birthday suit outside the dressing room, and I saw F. J. Wall, secretary of the FA, pleading with him to rejoin his colleagues. But Bill was out for blood, and I shouted to Mr. Kirkham to lock his cubicle door. He didn't need telling twice. But what a sight! The thing I'll never forget is Foulke, so tremendous in size, striding along the corridor, without a stitch of clothing."
Walter Bennett was injured and could not take part in the replay. He was replaced by the young William Barnes on the wing. The game was only two minutes old when a massive clearing kick by Foulke reached George Hedley and Sheffield United took an early lead. Led by the outstanding Ernest Needham, Sheffield dominated play but Albert Brown managed to score a equalizer. Southampton began to apply pressure but according to the Athletic News, "Foulke was invincible". With ten minutes to go, Needham took a shot that the Southampton goalkeeper, John Robinson, could only block, and Barnes was able to hit the ball into the unguarded net. Sheffield won 2-1 and Foulke had won another medal.
Needham retired from professional football in 1909. During his time at Sheffield United he scored 49 goals in 464 games. He continued to play cricket for Derbyshire in the County Cricket Championship until 1912. In total he scored 6550 runs, including seven centuries.
Ernest Needham died in 1936.