Dawley, Shropshire born goalkeeper William (sometimes Bill or Willie) “Fatty” Foulke played for Blackwell Colliery in 1893 and was spotted by Sheffield United playing for village side Blackwell in a Derbyshire Cup tie at Ilkeston Town, joining them for £10 in 1894. Foulke made his Football League debut for Sheffield United against West Bromwich Albion on 1st September 1894 and played for them for the next 11 seasons, during which he won a single international cap for England against Wales at Bramall Lane in a 4-0 victory in March 1897, being probably the heaviest player ever to play for England. He also made two appearances for The Football League, both matches being against The Scottish League in 1898 and 1900.
With The Blades, Foulke won the League Championship in 1897-98, and the FA Cup in 1899, when they beat Derby County 4-1 in the Final at The Crystal Palace, and again in 1902, when they beat Southampton in a replay, both matches played at The Crystal Palace. He also kept goal in the 1901 Final when Sheffield United lost to Southern League club Tottenham Hotspur.
At the end of the first match in the 1902 Cup Final Foulke protested to the officials that Southampton’s equalising goal should not have been allowed. Foulke left his dressing room unclothed and pursued the referee, Tom Kirkham, who took refuge in a broom cupboard. Foulke had to be stopped by a group of F.A. officials from wrenching the cupboard door from its hinges to reach the hapless referee. In the replay, Sheffield United won 2-1, with Foulke being required to make several saves to keep United in the match. Foulke was also The Blades’ goalkeeper as they finished runners up in the League Championship in 1897 and 1900.
After 342 appearances for The Blades he moved to Chelsea for a fee of £50 in May 1905 and was made club captain. Foulke by now was remarkably temperamental. If he thought his defenders were not trying hard enough, he would walk off the field. Opposing forwards who incurred his displeasure would be picked up and thrown bodily into his goal. He was, however, a great crowd puller, and Chelsea decided to exploit this. To draw even more attention to his size, they placed two small boys behind his goal in an effort to distract the opposition even more. The boys would sometimes run and return the ball when it went out of play, and quite by accident, ball boys came into being.
Foulke stayed for just one season making 35 appearances for The Pensioners before moving to his final club, Bradford City in April 1906. He played his last game of 24 matches for The Bantams in February 1907 before retirement later that year.
Foulke can only be described as legendary and one of the most astonishing of players ever to take to the field in top class professional sport. Foulke was renowned for his great size (6 ft 4 in [1.93 m] by some estimates) and weight, reaching perhaps 24 stone (152 kg; 336 lb) at the end of his career, although reports on his weight vary. Foulke appears in the Mitchell and Kenyon films, playing in a match on 6th September 1902.
He was also a first class cricketer, he played four matches for Derbyshire County Cricket Club in the 1900 season.
His nephew, Jim Simmons, was also a professional footballer, playing mainly for Sheffield United, with whom he won the FA Cup in 1915, scoring their opening goal, and also for West Ham United between 1909 and 1922.
NB the photograph is from Sheffield United’s match against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux on 24th December 1898, a match they lost 4-1. Right back Harry Thickitt walks away from “Fatty” Foulke (left).