January 11 2018: pigs might fly

fatty foulke

Tommy Lawrence has died, aged 77. Known sometimes as the sweeper keeper but more familiarly as the Flying Pig, the great Liverpool goalkeeper was, if not my hero – that was Pat Jennings – then my role model. More of that in a moment.

Folk have this thing, this outsize regard, for heavyweight goalkeepers, none more unmissable than William “Fatty” Foulke – that’s him above.

Foulke made 299 appearances for Sheffield United, transferred to Chelsea and was also a suitably big hitting batsman for Derbyshire. When Billy Foulke came out, it was said, the opposition appealed against the light.

Some called him the Leviathan, others the Colossus. Some called him Little Willie, but that’s a bit ambiguous.

He also won an England football cap, a 4-0 victory over Wales, but was never picked again. That he was given to a somewhat simian swinging on the crossbar was reputedly a factor.

He was replaced at Sheffield United by William Bigger – who was, of course, much smaller. Foulke died in 1916, aged just 42. The death certificate said cirrhosis.

*Billy Foulke’s Sheffield United career began in 1900, a couple of years after the club’s improbable Northern League sojourn.

Among roly-poly goalies, none may be more affectionately remembered hereabouts than Steve Tierney, known as Tino if not as Tiny, a 20-stone stopper who, like Tommy Lawrence, was a very good goalkeeper.

His Northern League career had begun  as a 16-year-old at Darlington Cleveland Bridge, though he may best be remembered for turning up late for his debut at Horden. There’d been a queue at the pie shop, he explained.

Tino died in 2005, remembered at a match between a Northern League X1 and Gretna, Scottish FA Cup quarter-finalists at the time, through which the league raised £10,000 for his dependants.

Gretna gave £2,000 and their services, Billingham Synthonia were magnificent hosts, Durham City moved a game to another night and gave all its proceeds to the fund. Every club sold at least £50 worth of draw tickets, wonderful prizes donated by the North-East football community.

NVNG summed it: “While other leagues look out for their backs, we look out for our own. A small tribute to a great guy.”

*I was never much of a goalkeeper, an inability no better illustrated than when my secretary – ah, those were the days – stitched a rather fetching flying pig onto the back of my goalie top.

The Northern Echo were playing the Evening Gazette, from Middlesbrough, at the Hundens Lane ground in Darlington. It had 14 pitches, stretched in linear fashion away from changing rooms which resembles Boer War latrines.

The teams perceived to be best were allocated pitch No 1, second best No 2 and so forth. We were on pitch 14.

After an inactive minute, someone hoofed a long ball towards my area. Anxious early to allay team mates’ misgivings, I shouted “Keeper’s” and charged towards the ball. So did their centre forward, a 15 stone photographer.

Neither of us had touched the thing before we were in collision, as the legal profession would have it. Caught in a very painful place, I stayed down. No paramedics on pitch 14, I was finally supported back to the latrines by the bairn’s buggy and taken off to the Memorial Hospital.

The doc did all the checks, confirmed (somewhat to my surprise) that nothing was missing – “but if you want to keep fit in the future,” he said, “I think I’d stick to jogging.” So ended a hapless career.

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