Joe Duckworth was born in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1898. He played football for Lancashire Combination club Accrington Stanley before signing amateur forms with Blackburn Rovers. He made his Football League debut in the first season after the First World War and played five First Division matches for Rovers before joining in Aberdare Athletic July 1921 ahead of their first season in the Football League. He made 84 league appearances over three years in the Third Division South.
He joined Reading in 1924, and missed only one league match in his first four years with the club; he was ever-present in the 1925-26 Football League season as Reading won the Third Division South title. He also played in Reading’s run to the 1926-27 FA Cup semi-final against eventual winners Cardiff City and a Cup win against league leaders Sheffield Wednesday in January 1929, where he was singled out for particular praise.
Given a free transfer in 1930, Joe then spent two seasons with Brighton & Hove Albion and made 40 appearances for the Seagulls.