Willie Irvine was born in Eden County Antrim in 1943. After a spell in amateur football, Willie travelled to England for a trial with Burnley at the age of 16.
He was offered a professional deal and spent three years playing for the youth and reserve teams, before making his senior debut at the end of the 1962–63 season. Over the following seasons, Irvine became a regular feature of the Burnley team and in the 1965–66 campaign, he scored 29 goals and was the highest goalscorer in the First Division.
Willie lost his place in the Burnley team after suffering a broken leg during a cup tie in 1967, and never properly regained his form for the club. He was later transfer listed, and joined local rivals Preston North End in March 1968. In the Second Division, he began to score goals again and was Preston’s top goalscorer in the 1968–69 season despite suffering a serious leg injury which forced him to miss much of the campaign.
When Alan Ball was named Preston manager in the summer of 1970, Willie found himself out of the team. He joined Brighton & Hove Albion in July 1971 after impressing during a loan spell earlier in the year. Willie played 76 matches for the Seagulls scoring 29 goals but then moved to Halifax Town midway through the 1972–73 season, but left the club after six months. Willie ended his football career with a spell at semi-professional Great Harwood, retiring at the age of 29.
In addition to playing club football, Wille also represented Northern Ireland. He won 23 caps for his country, scoring eight goals.