7 December 2021

William “Fatty” Foulke (Sheffield U.)

By Tolga Genç

We continue the history of football. This time, parallel to British football history, there is a giant next to the goalkeepers of that period.
William Henry “Fatty” Foulke was born in 1874 in Dawley, Shropshire, England. When he started playing cricket, he moved to Sheffield United at 20 due to his size. With S.United, one of the best teams of the period won the league championship in 1898, the second place in 1897 and 1900, the tournament in the FA Cup in 1899 and 1902, and the second place in 1901. After 11 years and 300 matches, he transferred to Chelsea. The vigilant rulers here were putting small children behind the castle so that Foulke’s height and size would attract the attention of the stands more. On this occasion, the concept of the ball-picking boy entered football. Although Foulke left the team a year later due to the longing of his family in the north, he left his mark here as well. He retired from football after playing for Bradford City for one season.
Foulke, who was 1.93 meters tall, weighed up to 152 kilograms towards the end of his career and ate as much as the whole team in one sitting. Although there are many legends about him, one was that the referee who escaped from him dismantled the cabinet door where he was hiding. After conceding a last-minute goal in a Southampton match, Foulke, who exaggerated the objection to the referee, ran after the referee.
Known as agile for his height, the goalkeeper was famous for his saves with his feet and was quite frightening on the field due to his size. Foulke was referred to as “big as a mountain, agile like a cat.” In a match against Derby County, he aimed the ball with his fist hitting England striker John Goodall. Woolwich Arsenal goalkeeper James Ashcroft said of Foulke: “A goalkeeper shouldn’t be fat, but Foulke was an exception. Despite his size, he was one of the period’s most agile and reactive athletes.”
After leaving football, Foulke lived in Sheffield until he died of cirrhosis at 42. He ran a brewery and always showed up in the city in tailored suits.