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Billy “Fatty” Foulke.

Graham Phythian

One of the most colourful characters of the Edwardian era was goalkeeper - Billy “Fatty” Foulke. His weight and height were a considerable asset in the days when goalies could still be charged into the net.  Responding to taunts from opposition fans he once declared 'I don't mind what they call me, as long as they don't call me late for my lunch.' The football chant “Who Ate All the Pies?” is said to have originally been about Foulke.

Born at Dawley, Shropshire, William Henry Foulke also excelled as a cricketer playing first-class matches for Derbyshire.  After being discovered playing for village side Blackwell in a Derbyshire Cup tie at Ilkeston Town, Foulke was signed by Sheffield United. His height has been variously given as between 6'2" and 6'6" and in his day, he towered over his fellow players. 

Despite his weight, Foulke was more than just a stopper. He was surprisingly agile and was expert at saving penalties - it was not unknown for him to charge up field to the opposing penalty spot. While at Sheffield, he helped them to win the FA Cup twice.   He also played in goal for England in a match against Wales in 1897 - England won 4-0.

In 1905, Foulke moved to Chelsea for the transfer fee of £20, where he was made captain and became something of a folk hero despite staying for just one season.  He moved to Bradford, his last club, in 1906.

Legend has it that towards the end of his life, William Foulke fell on hard times and was to be found at Blackpool Sands, making a few pennies by saving penalties in a 'beat the goalie' attraction. In fact, as this fine biography recounts,  he spent his retirement years as landlord of a pub in central Sheffield for a couple of years and then he ran a corner shop in the city. Foulke's passion for football remained undiminished and he was a regular on match days, sitting in a specially constructed chair on the front row.  His affluence ran to employing domestic servants, and he was ever the dapper man about town, sporting his gold watch chain, silk scarf and gold pin.  When he died in 1933, a substantial crowd came to pay their respects.  

This lavishly illustrated biography is more than a football book, it is a fascinating insight into the social history of late Victorian and Edwardian England  Packed with anecdotes about one of English football's greatest characters, it is a worthy tribute to its larger than life subject.  Highly recommended.