William Foulke: Chelsea's cult hero you probably never knew about
Osgood, Wise, Lampard; these are just some names that have lived long in the memory of Chelsea fans as heroes of their club.
But when it comes to putting Chelsea on the footballing map, there is one name that should be remembered for helping the Blues force its way onto the footballing scene; William Foulke.
Signed from Sheffield United in 1905 for £50, Foulke was Chelsea’s first ever goalkeeper.
Once described as the ‘most talked about player on the planet’, Foulke was 6 foot 4 inches tall and reportedly weighed almost 22 stone.
And these physical attributes combined with his goalkeeping ability were what the businessmen who formed Chelsea FC were hoping would attract the fans to watch them play.
In his early days at Sheffield United, Foulke was reportedly the original subject of the famous football chant “who ate all the pies?”.
Whilst many people saw Foulke as a figure for derision, his goalkeeping abilities outshone this criticism.
He won the FA Cup twice and the First Division once with Sheffield United and even earned an England cap as a result of his performances.
But Foulke – nicknamed affectionately “Fatty” by fans – was most renowned for his temper.
One of the most famous stories about Foulke’s temper comes from the first game of the 1902 FA Cup final.
At the end of the game, Foulke was so enraged that Southampton’s equaliser shouldn’t have been allowed that he chased after the referee – whilst completely naked – who took refuge in a broom cupboard.
Foulke had to be stopped by a group of officials from wrenching the cupboard door from its hinges to reach the cowering referee.
His signing for Chelsea was a key statement by the newly founded club in an attempt to make their mark in the footballing world.
With association football popular primarily in the north of England, the signing of a household name enabled Chelsea to break into the monopoly that the northern clubs held over football.
And despite only playing one full season for the Blues, Foulke made a huge impact – and that’s not a joke about his size.
Foulke’s physical play – he would often pick up and throw strikers that he found annoying into his goal – brought great joy to the spectators who came to see the stopper.
He was able to draw huge crowds to Stamford Bridge, and with his popularity being noted by the Chelsea hierarchy, they decided to use that for their gain.
To intimidate the opposition even more, they decided to put two little boys behind Foulke’s goal to emphasise his great size and hopefully distract the attackers.
And these boys, due to their proximity to the pitch, would sometimes run onto the pitch and fetch the ball for Foulke, which is where the idea for ball-boys came from.
It is also thought that when Foulke thought that his defenders were not trying hard enough, he would simply decide to walk off the pitch in a fit of rage.
But Foulke – nicknamed “Our Little Willy” by Chelsea fans – is primarily remembered at Chelsea as the first superstar player they had – and also their first goalkeeper – and the one that provided them with the legitimacy for a place in the Football League.