Jack Philbin was born in Jarrow, County Durham, in 1913. He played football for a local team before joining North-Eastern League club Washington Colliery in 1933. He had only been there a month, in which he played four times, before signing for Derby County of the Football League First Division.
Manager George Jobey said he “[showed] every sign of developing into a ‘class’ player”, and the Derby Evening Telegraph’s correspondent was “told by those who have seen him play that before the dawn of another season he will be a strong candidate for inclusion in the Rams’ League side.” Jack made his debut against Leeds United in April 1935, and had three good attempts on goal early on, but Derby lost 2–1, and that was his only league appearance.
In 1936, he moved on to Torquay United of the Third Division South. He went straight into Torquay’s team for the opening fixture of the 1936–37 season, and scored both his side’s goals in a 2–2 draw with Reading. In style, he added technical ability to a Torquay team that made up in vigour, strength and enthusiasm what they lacked in “guile”. He remained a regular in the side, and scored 10 goals from 69 league appearances over two seasons.
In 1938, he and team-mate Freddie Green joined another Southern Section team, Brighton & Hove Albion. Neither made an impact at their new club. Jack made six appearances, scoring once, before the Football League was abandoned for the duration of the Second World War.
After playing a few matches in the 1945–46 season, Philbin returned to the Torbay area, where he spent some years with Dartmouth United helping them win the 1948–49 Devon Senior Cup, and then coached at Paignton Corinthians under the management of former Torquay player Russell Phillips.