Is This Soccer Goalkeeper ‘Lost in the Fog’?

"Sam Bartram stuck doggedly to his post, eyes cagily guarding his goal."

  • Published 27 December 2019

Claim

A photograph shows a goalie who stayed on the field for 15 minutes not knowing that a soccer match had been canceled due to heavy fog.

Rating

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What's True

In 1937, goalkeeper Sam Bartram was left alone on the pitch for 15 minutes after a soccer match was canceled due to heavy fog.

What's False

However, a photograph that is frequently shared with reproductions of this anecdote was taken decades later and shows a different goalkeeper.

Origin

A popular anecdote about a goalie who remained on the field long after a soccer match was canceled due to heavy fog is frequently shared online, along with a picture purportedly showing the confused but dedicated goalkeeper:

The meme reads: “In 1937, a soccer match was interrupted due to fog. But a goalkeeper stood in the fog for 15 minutes without knowing it.”

The anecdote recounted in this viral meme refers to a genuine incident which took place during a soccer match in 1937. This photograph seen here, however, was snapped decades later and pictures a different goalkeeper.

This meme refers to an incident from a Christmas Day match in 1937 between the Charlton Athletic and Chelsea at the Stamford Bridge stadium in London, England. Sam Bartram, the Athletic’s goalkeeper, was at his post when a heavy fog rolled across the pitch, a fog so dense that the match was called off. The players and referees all made their way off the field, but nobody told Bartram, who remained at his position for about 15 minutes, peering through the fog and waiting for the opponent’s attack until a police officer found him and ushered him off the field.

Bartram recounted the incident in his autobiography, quoted below in an article published by ESPN:

On Christmas Day 1937, Bartram was in the papers once more after a bizarre incident in a match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. With the score at 1-1, the game had to be called off on 61 minutes due to thick fog. Unfortunately for Bartram, he was the last to be made aware. “Soon after the kick-off, [fog] began to thicken rapidly at the far end, travelling past Vic Woodley in the Chelsea goal and rolling steadily towards me,” he wrote in his autobiography. “The referee stopped the game, and then, as visibility became clearer, restarted it. We were on top at this time, and I saw fewer and fewer figures as we attacked steadily.

“I paced up and down my goal-line, happy in the knowledge that Chelsea were being pinned in their own half. ‘The boys must be giving the Pensioners the hammer,’ I thought smugly, as I stamped my feet for warmth. Quite obviously, however, we were not getting the ball into the net. For no players were coming back to line up, as they would have done following a goal. Time passed, and I made several advances towards the edge of the penalty area, peering through the murk, which was getting thicker every minute. Still I could see nothing. The Chelsea defence was clearly being run off its feet.

“After a long time a figure loomed out of the curtain of fog in front of me. It was a policeman, and he gaped at me incredulously. ‘What on earth are you doing here?’ he gasped. ‘The game was stopped a quarter of an hour ago. The field’s completely empty’. And when I groped my way to the dressing-room, the rest of the Charlton team, already out of the bath and in their civvies, were convulsed with laughter.”

Although it wouldn’t be uncommon for this sort of sports story to grow exaggerated over the years, we found contemporaneous articles from 1937 that backed up Bartram’s account. For example, on Dec. 27, 1937, the Associated Press published this snippet about the foggy Christmas day game:

London (AP) – Goalkeeper Bartram believes a good defense is the backbone of a good soccer team. When the worst Christmas fog since 1904 settled over the playing filed the officials decided to call the game off, but Bartram stuck doggedly to his post, eyes cagily guarding his goal. As soon as play was terminated all the players except Bartram left the field. A searching party finally found him and convinced him it was safe to leave his post.

Mon, Dec 27, 1937 – 7 · Sioux City Journal (Sioux City, Iowa) · Newspapers.com

While this viral meme recounts a genuine sports story, the image that frequently accompanies the anecdote shows a different goalkeeper from a different foggy game: the photograph seen here actually shows Arsenal goalkeeper Jack Kelsey during a foggy match in 1954. While that game was also canceled due to fog, Kelsey was not left out on the pitch to defend against a departed opponent.

The image is available via PA Images along with the caption “Arsenal goalkeeper Jack Kelsey peers into the fog, searching for the elusive ball. The fog was so thick the game was eventually stopped.”