A regular with the Fuschias before the war and a state representative in the 1914 carnival, the clever, pacy and calm centreman enlisted in the army early in the First World War and served in the 8th Field Artillery Brigade.
He played out the next season while in camp, and after the club went into recess he travelled to Europe, playing in an October 1916 match for servicemen in London in front of the Prince of Wales, King Manuel of Portugal and 8,000 other onlookers.
Lilley was seriously wounded in France in June of 1917, and was discharged as medically unfit with leg injuries and a punctured lung. Nevertheless he returned to the VFL as vice-captain of Melbourne in 1919 and played through to 1925. In September 1919 Lilley was picked for a match between VFL and VFA players who worked in the public service. He played for the team representing state government employees. In 1923 he played for the VFL against a Ballarat representative side.
He moved to the backline later in his career.
Lilley also played district cricket for Prahran.