He began his professional career with Manchester United but was unable to break into the first team and spent time on loan with Swindon Town, Royal Antwerp, Cardiff City, Queens Park Rangers, Rochdale and Wycombe Wanderers, before joining Cardiff permanently after his release by Manchester United in July 2010. He then joined Bristol City on a one-year deal with an option of a second year but turned it down in May 2013 in favour of a move to Burnley, whom he has represented in the Premier League, and captained for since 2015.
Formerly an international from under-16 to under-21 level, Heaton has been involved in senior England squads since 2015, finally making his senior debut against Australia on 27 May 2016 in a UEFA Euro 2016 warm-up fixture.
Born in Chester, Cheshire, Heaton began his football career with Wrexham, for whom he played both in goal and in midfield, but, after making 20 appearances for the Manchester United Under-17 team in the previous two seasons, he signed for United as a trainee on 8 July 2002. He became a regular in the Under-17 team during the 2002–03 season, and picked up an FA Youth Cup winner's medal despite playing second fiddle to Luke Steele throughout the entire competition. He made his first appearance in the reserve team the following season, starting in a 3–1 home win over Birmingham City in the Premier Reserve League on 2 October 2003. At the end of the 2003–04 season, Heaton was named on the bench for the final of the Manchester Senior Cup against Manchester City, and won a winner's medal despite not taking the field.
By the 2004–05 season, Heaton had become the first-choice goalkeeper for the Manchester United reserve team, and was named on the bench for Stan Ternent's testimonial on 17 August 2004, coming on as a 76th-minute substitute for Luke Steele after Steele had earlier come on for Tim Howard. With Heaton in goal for 17 of the 28 Premier Reserve League North matches and 12 of the 22 Central League matches, the team went on to win both league titles by nine and five points respectively.
Heaton's form for the reserves resulted in him being loaned out to Swindon Town at the start of the 2005–06, initially until 1 January 2006. During his time at Swindon, he played over 20 matches, saving a penalty on his debut, and was described as "one for the future" by manager Iffy Onuora. He returned to Manchester United, but, after the recall of Ritchie Jones from Royal Antwerp, Heaton was sent there for the rest of the season after United rebuffed an approach from Huddersfield Town.
Heaton spent the 2007–08 season with the first team squad at Manchester United, appearing on the bench when Edwin van der Sar was out due to injury.
At the end of the 2007–08 season, Heaton agreed to move to Championship club Cardiff City on loan for the duration of the 2008–09 season. He was chosen as the club's first choice goalkeeper, above Peter Enckelman, for the start of the season by manager Dave Jones. He played in every match until late November, with the exception of the League Cup third round tie against Swansea City, when he was replaced by Enckelman. However, late on in Cardiff's 2–1 away defeat to Plymouth Argyle on 22 November 2008, Heaton picked up an injury and was forced off. The injury would go on to cost Heaton his place in the team as the club went unbeaten with Enckelman in goal for over two months.
In February, Enckelman was forced to undergo knee surgery which saw Heaton return in goal on 16 February 2009, when he picked up the man of the match award in a 4–0 defeat at the hands of Arsenal. However, he tore his thigh muscle during the match, ruling him out for up to five weeks. On his return, Heaton found himself on the bench behind loanee Stuart Taylor but, following a 6–0 defeat against Preston North End, he replaced Taylor for the final three matches of the season. However, he was unable to keep Cardiff in the play-off places and he returned to Manchester United at the end of the season.
On 15 August 2009, Heaton was signed by Queens Park Rangers on an emergency three-month loan deal, the terms of which allowed him to compete in the League Cup. Heaton's loan spell ended on 8 November 2009. He made one first-team appearance during his loan, in the 1–0 defeat at Chelsea in the League Cup on 23 September 2009.
After returning from QPR, Heaton joined Rochdale on 13 November 2009 until the end of December 2009. He made his debut in a 3–2 loss against Chesterfield on 14 November 2009. The loan was then extended until 23 January 2010, before a further extension pushed the end date back to 31 January. In his 12 appearances for Rochdale, Heaton conceded only ten goals – including four clean sheets – and finished on the losing team just once.
Heaton spent less than two weeks back at Manchester United before going back out on loan to Wycombe Wanderers on 12 February 2010. He went straight into the Wycombe starting line-up for their away match against Brentford the following day, which they drew 1–1. Heaton made his second appearance for the Chairboys in their 0–0 draw against Southampton on Tuesday 23 February 2010. He made a great save from a volley to keep the Chairboys on even terms with the Saints.
Meeting with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson on his future at the club amidst an expiring contract, Heaton declined an offer to stay at Old Trafford, deciding instead to leave on free transfer in pursuit of regular playing time. Following his release by United, Heaton agreed a deal on 15 June 2010 to return to Cardiff City on 1 July 2010. He made his second debut in 4–1 win over Burton Albion in the League Cup on 11 August. After first-choice goalkeeper David Marshall suffered an elbow injury, Heaton established himself as Cardiff's new number starter. In late February, however, he suffered a groin injury, so Jason Brown and Stephen Bywater were brought in as cover on loan. Upon his return, Heaton went into the team against Derby County, where they won 4–1, their first win in four matches. Heaton's performances during the 2010–11 season, earned him the club's Young Player of the Year award.
Under new manager, Malky Mackay, Heaton found himself as cover for David Marshall, but he played a key part in the club's League Cup run in which they reached the final thanks to two saves from Heaton in a semi-final penalty shoot-out against Crystal Palace. He suffered an ankle injury just before the final, but he overcame the injury to start at Wembley Stadium. Heaton followed his penalty heroics against Crystal Palace when he started the penalty shoot-out by pushing Steven Gerrard's effort onto the bar, but he ultimately ended up on the losing team as Liverpool won the shoot-out 3–2. Despite the successful cup run, Heaton still found himself second string to Marshall and was released at the end of the season after rejecting a new contract in the Welsh capital.
In July 2012, Heaton held talks with Watford over a potential move; however, Watford's new owners decided to pull out of the move. Later that month, Heaton went on trial with Bristol City during their pre-season training camp in Spain and they opened contract talks soon after. On 27 July, Heaton signed a one-year deal with the club, with the option for a further 12 months. He made his debut on 18 August 2012, in a 1–0 defeat away to Nottingham Forest. A disappointing season in Bristol led to the club owning the worst defensive record in the league with 84 goals allowed, and they were relegated at the end of the season. Heaton started 43 of Bristol City's 46 matches in the Championship that season, and was viewed as one the club's better players that season.
Heaton joined Burnley in May 2013, after turning down a further one-year deal at Bristol City. His decision was to stay in the Championship, and Burnley offered Heaton a two-year contract attaching him to the club until June 2015, with an option of a third year. A target of manager Sean Dyche while at Watford, Dyche's first Burnley signing was described as a "good technician" with a "great pedigree". Heaton immediately became first-choice goalkeeper for Burnley following the departures of Lee Grant and Brian Jensen. He made his Burnley debut against Bolton Wanderers on 3 August 2013. On 24 August, he was the recipient of a rare technical caution (his second of the match) for handling the ball after releasing it whilst playing against Brighton, a match they lost 2–0. Heaton was a part of Burnley's defense which allowed only 37 goals, the fewest in the league, as Burnley returned to the Premier League for the first time since 2009–10. Heaton also picked up 19 clean sheets, the most by any keeper in the regular season.
Heaton made his Premier League debut on 18 August against Chelsea in a 1–3 loss. Heaton played in every minute of Burnley's Premier League campaign, the only goalkeeper in the league to do so, but his efforts would not be enough, as Burnley and their league-worst offense were relegated at the end of the season. After the season, Heaton was voted by his teammates as Burnley's Player of the Season.
On 30 June 2015, Heaton signed a new three-year deal at the club through to the summer of 2018. Taking over for Jason Shackell, Heaton was named as captain for the 2015–16 season, captaining the team for the first time on 8 August 2015, on the opening day of the 2015–16 Championship season against Leeds United in a 1–1 draw. Heaton kept 20 clean sheets during the season, second only to Dimitrios Konstantopoulos of Middlesbrough, as Burnley did not lose in the second half of the Championship season on their way to becoming champions and earning promotion back to the Premier League at their first attempt. Toward the end of the season, Heaton was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year.
On 20 July 2016, Heaton signed another new contract, this time a four-year deal running until the summer of 2020. On 29 October, Heaton made numerous saves during the match against former club Manchester United, the highlight being a mid-air, fully extended save of Zlatan Ibrahimović that Heaton claimed "nearly broke [his] arm". Afterwards, Heaton required medical attention but remained in the match to lead Burnley to a 0–0 draw, being named Man of the Match in the process. In the same season on 22 January 2017, Heaton made his 150th league appearance for the club as he was beaten by a 97th-minute penalty from Alexis Sánchez that saw Arsenal win 2–1.
Having played for England at various youth levels, Heaton was handed his England under-21 debut in March 2008 by manager Stuart Pearce when he replaced Joe Hart as a substitute during a match against Poland. However, he did not make the final squad for the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
On 21 May 2015, Heaton was called up to the England senior team for the first time ahead of a friendly against the Republic of Ireland and a UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying match against Slovenia. Heaton continued to be included in Roy Hodgson's squads before finally making his debut as an 87th-minute substitute in place of Fraser Forster in England's Euro 2016 warm-up match against Australia, played at Sunderland's Stadium of Light.As of match played 10 September 2017
As of match played 13 June 2017
Cardiff CityFootball League Cup runners-up: 2011–12
BurnleyFootball League Championship runners-up: 2013–14
Football League Championship champions: 2015–16