When I mention fat goalkeepers you could be thinking Andy Goram or Neville Southall but this guy William “Fatty” Foulke literally took the biscuit!
He played four first-class matches for Derbyshire County Cricket Club in the 1900 season, but is remembered primarily as a goalkeeper for Sheffield United although he also played for Chelsea and Bradford City. He also won a single international cap for England in 1897 against Wales.
After being discovered playing for village side Blackwell in a Derbyshire Cup tie at Ilkeston Town, Foulke made his debut for Sheffield United against West Bromwich Albion on 1 September 1894 and led the team to three FA Cup finals (winning two) and a League Championship.
At the end of the first match in the 1902 Cup Final Foulke protested to the officials that Southampton’s equalizing goal should not have been allowed. Foulke left his dressing room unclothed and pursued the referee, Tom Kirkham, who took refuge in a broom cupboard. Foulke had to be stopped by a group of F.A. officials from wrenching the cupboard door from its hinges to reach the hapless referee. In the replay, Sheffield United won 2–1, with Foulke being required to make several saves to keep United in the match. He was also in goal for United when they suffered an FA Cup exit to Second Division Burslem Port Vale in 1898.
Here he is, apparently wearing the same strip as the outfield players, in the 1901 FA Cup Final:
He then moved to Chelsea for a fee of £50 and was made club captain. Foulke by now was remarkably temperamental. If he thought his defenders were not trying hard enough, he would walk off the field. Opposing forwards who incurred his displeasure would be picked up and thrown bodily into his goal. He was, however, a great crowd puller, and Chelsea decided to exploit this. To draw even more attention to his size, they placed two small boys behind his goal in an effort to distract the opposition even more. The boys would sometimes run and return the ball when it went out of play, and quite by accident, ball boys came into being.Foulke stayed for just one season before moving to his final club, Bradford City.
Foulke died in 1916 and was buried in Burngreave cemetery, Sheffield. His death certificate gives “cirrhosis” as the major cause of death.The stories of pneumonia caught whilst earning pin money at a “beat the goalie” booth on Blackpool Sands seem to be without foundation.
This quite remarkable Mitchell and Kenyon film from 1902 briefly features Foulke but is worth the watching for the superb quality.
And I couldn’t watch those old clips without recalling possibly my favourite all time TV comedy sketch.