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Rob Green and William Foulke

John Simkin

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William Foulke was considered to be the best goalkeeper in the Football League between 1895 and 1905 but like Rob Green, his claims to become England’s goalkeeper were ignored. He only played one international game (against Wales on 29th March 1897). Like Green he was kept out of the team by a man called Robinson (John rather than Paul).

At that time, where possible, the FA selected men who had been to private school. Foulke was a former miner from Derbyshire. If they had to select working class men they had to show they were willing to show respect to those in authority. Foulke did not fall into that category.

For example, Foulke was in the Sheffield United team that played Southampton in the 1902 FA Cup Final. Sheffield took an early lead but Southampton scored a controversial equalizer and the game was drawn 1-1. C. B. Fry wrote in the Southern Echo: "The outstanding feature of the match was the grand goalkeeping of Foulke. He made a number of good saves, and on two or three occasions cleared the ball from what appeared impossible positions. Once, near the end, from a corner, he effected an absolute miracle with four or five men right on to him."

Foulke was furious that the equalizing goal had been given after the game he went searching for the referee. The linesman, J. T. Howcroft, described how Frederick Wall, secretary of the Football Association, tried to placate the goalkeeper: "Foulke was exasperated by the goal and claimed it was in his birthday suit outside the dressing room, and I saw F. J. Wall, secretary of the FA, pleading with him to rejoin his colleagues. But Bill was out for blood, and I shouted to Mr. Kirkham to lock his cubicle door. He didn't need telling twice. But what a sight! The thing I'll never forget is Foulke, so tremendous in size, striding along the corridor, without a stitch of clothing."

Sheffield United won the replay 2-1. The winning goal was scored by William Barnes, a young player recently purchased from West Ham. The goal followed a blunder by the England goalkeeper, John Robinson. Maybe we will the FA Cup against Spurs this season with Green playing a blinder and Robinson making several mistakes.

There is another parallel between the careers of Foulke and Green. Both men failed to save any penalties in their first few seasons in professional football. However, once they started saving penalties, they could not stop. For example, Foulke once saved ten penalties in a season (1905-06).

Hopefully, their careers will not end up the same way. Foulke became very disillusioned by the way he was ignored by the English selectors. He consoled himself with consuming large amounts of food and drink. By the 1906-7 season he weighed over 25 stone. Foulke remains in the record books as the heaviest ever first-class footballer to play anywhere in the world. After he retired he owned a pub in Sheffield and drunk all the profits and died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 42.

You can see photographs of William “Fatty” Foulke's growth here:


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