NOWADAYS, ball-boys in football are commonplace… integral even.
Youngsters, often youth team players, are tasked with fetching the ball after it’s left the field of play to keep the game moving smoothly.
But, incredibly, ball-boys were NOT even invented to retrieve footballs…
To learn the real origin of the humble ball-boy, you need to take a trip down memory lane – all the way to 1905, in fact.
In the late-19th and early-20th century, there stood a man known as “The Colossus” – 6ft 4ins, 23-stone William Foulke.
Despite his incredible size, Foulke – affectionately known as “Fatty Foulkes” – was a goalkeeper… and a very good one at that.
How could they make their gigantic goalie look even more massive? Perspective, of course.
In order to make the man-mountain look even more imposing, they hired two young boys to stand behind the goal, in a bid to make him appear yet more humongous.
And boy did it work… having joined newly-formed Chelsea, one-cap England international Foulke was handed the maximum wage and was instantly installed as club captain.
In his one and only season in London, the giant stopper saved TEN penalties as the Blues finished third in the Second Division.
Despite his incredible size – weighing just one pound less than his two full-backs combined – Foulke was agile, athletic and deemed to be one of the first ‘keepers to punch incoming crosses clear.
In 1905-06, Foulke conceded just 28 goals in 35 games… which is all the more impressive when you consider Chelsea shipped 17 in the SIX matches he missed.
During the season, the two youngsters who stood behind the goal were also tasked with picking up loose balls and returning them to Foulke… thus saving his legs.
The rest, as they say, is history as ball-boys have gone on to feature in every game in every ground on the planet to ensure the game is as entertaining as possible.
For that, you can thank Chelsea Football Club… and a certain Mr Foulke, of course.
Amazingly, Foulke is not only a key figure in the foundation of ball-boys, but also a certain football chant… “Who ate all the pies?”
These days you can here a mighty rendition of the famous, somewhat insulting tune at stadiums across the country.
But according to many sources, Foulke – who had earlier played county cricket with Derbyshire – was the original target… not that the big man himself let it get to him.
Chelsea wrote of Foulke in their match-day programme in December 1905, saying: “Foulke says he doesn’t care how much they [forwards] charge him, so long as they don’t charge him too much for his dinner.”
After his time at the Blues, Foulke headed north to Bradford – again for a £50 fee – before retiring in 1907 as his weight continued to escalate.
After quitting the beautiful game, Foulke took over a pub called the Duke, in Sheffield.
But he soon lost his landlord’s licence after being accused of being involved in illegal betting.
Following that, some reports amazingly claim Foulke moved to Blackpool to star in “Beat The Goalie” sideshows on the famous seafront.
Sadly, in 1916, Foulke died of cirrhosis – scarring of the liver often linked to excessive drinking – aged just 42-years-old.
Despite the occasional controversy and a size that certainly wouldn’t cut in the modern era, one thing is for sure: William Foulke changed the way football was played forever.