September 9, 2023

The late legend Johan Cruyff once claimed football is a brain game.
To perform at the highest levels, players need to be able to make hundreds of potentially crucial decisions, often whilst under extreme mental pressure.

However, while many of the all-time greats have made performing on the pitch look entirely effortless, football at its core is a physical sport, with players required to maintain the highest standards under significant cardiovascular stress, often for more than ninety minutes at a time.

With the rewards growing ever greater, the incentive to optimise players’ performances on the pitch has grown exponentially, with even a slight advantage potentially proving crucial. 

Players have strict regimes to prepare them for the physical demands of the modern game

As a result, the game has undergone a revolution, not just tactically, but also in understanding the role nutrition and sports science play in preparing players to be at their Best Private University on game day. 

It hasn’t always been that way though.

Perhaps the first player to be equally as renowned for his appearance off the pitch as he was for his skills on it was legendary former Sheffield United and Chelsea goalkeeper William Foulke.

The stopper joined the South Yorkshire side just five years after their formation in 1894 and quickly became a favourite amongst fans at Bramall Lane.

Though it was his prowess between the posts that earned him a solitary England cap before the turn of the century, Foulke’s place in footballing folklore can instead be attributed to his lumbering physique.

Born during a period where the average man stood around 5ft 5in, Foulke’s height was variously reported as being between 6ft 2ins and 6ft 4ins, and by the time he made a £50 transfer to Chelsea in 1905, he weighed more than 20 stone.

The 20stone goalkeeper William ‘Fatty’ Foulke was one of football’s first physical anomalies

The man often cited as the inspiration for the ‘Who ate all the pies’ chant would call time on his career and step away from the sport in 1908.

A fledgling form of sports science was starting to enjoy greater influence within the game in the decades after Foulke’s retirement, but the almost religious adherence to a strict diet and exercise regime of nowadays was still almost a century away.

While perhaps not quite on the same level as Foulke, stocky footballers have remained a prominent feature of the sport in more recent decades, but

A study conducted at the University of Wolverhampton in 2019 compared the body composition of players plying their trade in the English top-flight across five different decades between 1973 and 2013.

But research has shown that modern top flight players are becoming progressively taller and more angular than their predecessors 

Their research found that footballers throughout the years have steadily been getting taller, as well as more angular.

Interestingly, in addition to the height of the average top-flight player increasing by more than one centimetre every decade, the researchers found that players had been getting increasingly heavier throughout the decades, with four of the five successive datasets demonstrating an increase in average weight.