Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughThe unforgettable William “Fatty” Foulke - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough The unforgettable William “Fatty” Foulke - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

The unforgettable William “Fatty” Foulke


Neville Southall, Razor Ruddock, Ronaldo… while these modern day superstars shared their hunger for trophies with a hunger for burgers, William “Fatty” Foulke was arguably the instigator of their infamous athletic/nutritional habits. This is his story.



Ever wondered where the ‘who ate all the pies?’ chant came from? Look no further than football’s first celebrity… William Foulke.

The ‘Colossus’ goalkeeper was nothing less than a Sheffield United legend in the early twentieth century, despite tipping the scales at 24 stone at the height of his career, and 6’3 in statue – a whopping ten inches taller than the average man of that generation.

This gave Foulke, nicknamed ‘fatty’ for the duration of his career, a top spot in the Guinness Book of Records for being the heaviest ever first-class footballer to play anywhere in the world. But, this wasn’t all he was well known for, oh no…  His antics on and off the pitch, with player and match officials aside, made him a celebrity.

There’s no doubt about it, though, you bring Foulke up in any football conversation and the first words out of everyone’s mouths would be ‘fatty’. And, food related slurs weren’t far from the tip of his tongue when he came in front of the press either.

Foulke famously said amidst pulling up his XXXL trousers after effortlessly kicking the ball away from the net: “I don’t mind what they call me as long as they don’t call me late for my lunch.”

His love of eating was regularly remarked upon and stories abound of how he often would arrive early for breakfast, set out for the whole team, and scoff the lot! To draw even more attention to his size, archives suggest his team would place two small boys behind his goal in an effort to distract the opposition even more. The boys would sometimes chase the ball and return it, when it went out of play, and quite by accident ball boys came into being.

We’ll take a lot of beating

It’s hard to believe that a person double the weight of today’s professional footballers could last even five minutes on a pitch, never mind steer a team to the best defensive record in the country, and be classed as the best goalkeeper in the world. So what did Fatty possess to be the best of the best?

Foulke got his first taste in competitive action when he played in goal for his works’ team, the Blackwell Colliery. It didn’t take long for him to be spotted as a talented sportsman.

On 20th December 1893, the Derby Daily Telegraph reported: “The feature of the game was the goalkeeping of W. Foulke (sic) of Blackwell, who certainly has the making of a first-class custodian.”

His Blackwell Colliery career was short-lived, because as soon as the next season arrived, Foulke was sold to Sheffield United for £20. He played his first game for the Blades against West Bromwich Albion on 1st September 1894. In his first season, he played 29 out of the 30 league games on offer, and over the next 4 years he would only miss 3 games for the side.

On 2nd December 1895, Scottish Sport reported: “In Foulke, Sheffield United have a goalkeeper who will take a lot of beating. He is one of those lengthy individuals who can take a seat on the crossbar whenever he chooses, and shows little of the awkwardness usually characteristic of big men.”

The Colossus’ record in the 1896-97 season would put most of the Premiership teams’ records to shame, conceding only 29 goals, and having the best defensive record in the English leagues. The season after, the Blades did one better and won the First Division championship, Foulke being labelled by a journalist as the ‘greatest goalkeeper in the world’, after only missing one game.

Sheffield United had an average season the following campaign, but beat Derby County in the 1899 FA Cup final, with Foulke playing as outstanding as the footballing world had become accustomed to. J. Catton, the editor of Athletic News, stated: “His kicking from goal was as mighty as ever, and his good right hand, doubled up, banged out incoming shots with the force of a sledgehammer.”

Andrea Barnes

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