The year 1905 may seem familiar to you as that is the year our beloved Chelsea Football Club was founded. However, the year 1905 is also significant in this peculiar story of how a goalkeeper with the nickname “Fatty” caused the game of football to change for the foreseeable future.
The height of Foulke is strongly disputed on the internet, with Wikipedia claiming he was 6″9 however some websites have him listed at 6″3 and 6″4. Despite the logistics of his height, his weight of around 20-23 stone added to the terrifying aura of William Foulke. Despite his weight and height, Foulke was an incredible goalie for the time period and was known for his spectacular nimbleness for a man of his size. The English goalkeeper was also renowned for his aggressive playing style and tendency to kick clearances instead of using his hands.
William “Fatty” Foulke was signed for £50 from Sheffield United in the summer of 1905 and was immediately granted the role of club captain due to his impressive experience gained from the countless amount of years he had featured for the Blades. Foulke would only play for one season for Chelsea but his impact during this tenure would be cosmic for the game of football and for his own legacy.
Many deemed the signing of William Foulke a PR stunt done by Chelsea to attract fans in to see the enormous goalkeeper in action. In the 1905/06 season Foulke was claimed to have saved ten penalties throughout the league campaign. This was extremely impressive. Factoring in his weight and height makes this statistic seem even more unbelievable as the speed Foulke would have to possess to get down to save these shots would be unimaginable for a man his size.
Sometime during his infamous season in West London, the idea of two small children to be placed behind the goal was implemented and came to fruition. The reason for the two children being behind the goal is heavily disputed but the main reason leads into another. The main reason for the children was to make Foulke seem even bigger than he already was. The aim was to intimidate the opposition by tricking them into thinking the Chelsea goalie was even more ginormous than firstly perceived. Personally, I don’t believe the placement of the children behind the goal was even necessary to intimidate the opposition as the sight of a 6”3 – 6”9, twenty stone man standing in front of you would have been scary enough.
This first reason of placing the children behind the goal leads into the outcome. Probably not called it at the time, the term ‘ball boy’ was spawned from this very action. Foulke being the size he was, smartly took advantage of the children placed behind the goal. Whenever the ball would travel wide of the goal, he would send the children to go and collect the ball and bring it back to him. His size and presumably lack of fitness meant the ball boys saved Foulke a lot of time and effort when getting the ball back into play.
Stamford Bridge in 1905 was a lot different to nowadays. A large athletic track surrounded the pitch instead of the advertising boards seen at the Bridge today. The idea of ball boys was surely going to happen eventually due to the layout of Stamford Bridge, but the signing of William “Fatty” Foulke for a grand total of £50 was a catalyst for changing the game of football for years and years to come.
Other Stories About William Foulke
“Fatty” Foulke was one of the first true superstars and major attractions in English football and due to this, a number of crazy stories have been told surrounding the Telford born goalkeeper. Many of the stories about to be mentioned are impossible to say whether they are genuine so should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Foulke was an incredible sportsperson and to prove his ability to compete in physically demanding sports, he featured in four cricket matches for Derbyshire in the 1900 season. This ability to venture into a whole different sport and compete at a high level was really a testament to Foulke’s incredible sporting skill.
Another account of the legend that was William Foulke claims that he is the origin for the song commonly sung from the terraces in English football, “Who ate all the pies?”. Originally sung by the Sheffield United fans in the year of 1894, the song was used as a term of endearment for their number one goalkeeper. This story is a far fetch if I am being honest as many websites have proven that the song used for the tune of ‘Who ate all the pies?” came out around twenty years later than this story alleges.
A tale that is widely regarded as a myth online is that after Foulke retired, he would be the main attraction in a ‘beat the goalie’ penalty competition around Blackpool. Not afraid of using his famous frame to show off his immaculate physical ability, “Fatty” Foulke managed to keep on participating in sporting activities until his death in 1916, aged just 42.
Although only spending one year at Stamford Bridge, the mythical type presence of William Henry Foulke will undoubtedly be remembered for decades to come.
Written by Frankie