Charlton legend Sam Bartram had the reputation of being a flamboyant keeper. It may have cost him a place in the England team. In The Goalkeeper's History of Britain Peter Chapman writes, 'He was condemned as being too sensational and for playing to the gallery. His bravery in the way he threw himself at forwards' feet earned him the criticism of being "a danger to the game"'.
As well as taking the occasional penalty, part of Bartram's game was sometimes to dribble the ball up field. He would have had even more scope to play out of the goal if it had not been for a rule change affecting goalkeepers. The centenary of that rule change occurs this year.
Up to 1912 the keeper had been permitted to handle the ball in his own half of the field. One journalist proclaimed that ending this practice ‘would put an end to the gallery methods in taking a canter up the field, bouncing the ball on the ground. In future the goalkeeper would have to “stay at home”’.
Another journalist argued, ‘Many people have long held the view that goalkeepers are too pampered by the laws, and some of the sarcastic critics have suggested that the goalkeepers should be packed in cotton wool and put in a glass case. Personally, I fully agree with the protective laws that give the last defender a reasonable chance of escaping injury when making a daring save in defence of his goal.’ Remember that at this time keepers could be shoulder charged, providing their assailant kept both feet on the ground.
Some goalkeepers were, however, prone to play to the gallery and ‘have strained the patience of football followers by indulging in methods of play that are to say the least undignified and unnecessary. The goalkeeper who hugs the ball instead of promptly clearing it is asking for trouble, and generally gets it in the shape of hard knocks.’
Some keepers had ‘made a farce’ of the existing rule. ‘The sound, common sense goalkeepers need not be reminded that their duties lie inside the penalty area, and monkeying about a distance twenty yards from the goal line is not conducive to good goalkeeping.’
But how would the rule change be handled? Would referees be consistent? The view was taken that ‘common sense will impel the referee to grant full power to the kicker when a goalkeeper handles the ball outside the area Possibly our legislators might be inclined to treat the goalkeeper’s lapses from law in the mildest fashion, but until a pronouncement is made on the point, we shall probably have different awards for the same offences, and this is not desirable, nor is it satisfactory to either players, referees or spectators.’
However, the writer had considerable faith in the good sense of referees (who in those days wore blazers to show they were good chaps): ‘Referees who are worth their salt and who desire to get as near perfection in their work as possible will want to give the correct decision when they are called on to deal with a case.’
They would certainly need to do so if they came across the leading keeper of the era, Billy ‘Fatty’ Foulke. Six feet tall, Foulke weighed over 20 stone. He intimidated opponents and officials alike. If a decision did not go his way, he would storm after referees and hammer on their dressing room doors.
Peter Chapman thinks that in 'Bartram the selectors may have noticed something like the ghosr of "Fatty" Foulke looming from the grave. [Bartram was tall but not obese]. [Frank] Swift they had gone along with as an exception to the desirable rule. To have sanctioned a second showman would have risked established tradition. Protective of the nation's sterner values. Bartram was where they drew the line.'