John Napier began his career in September 1963 playing for Bolton Wanderers, where he played until 1967, when he was transferred to Brighton & Hove Albion for £25,000. He played until 1972 playing more than 200 games including two seasons as ever-present. In 1972, he was transferred to Bradford City to for a record-equalling £10,000. He spent six seasons at City interspersed with spells in America at Baltimore Comets and the same team after they became San Diego Jaws. In all he played more than 100 games at City, and served as manager, and assistant coach.