Remembering Trautmann, a most unlikely hero

There have been a number of tributes to the legendary Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, who died of a heart attack in Spain last week at the age of 89. Here are just a few personal thoughts.

  • Published: 27/07/2013 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: news

Corny though it may sound, the passing of the German keeper means another of my schoolboy footballing heroes has gone. Trautmann was from another era but it is important that his contribution be appreciated.

The first time I ever saw Trautmann, on our black and white television, he was glumly picking the ball out of the back of the net at Wembley after just 45 seconds of the 1955 Cup Final.

City were playing Newcastle and from a corner the great Jackie Milburn had fired a bullet-like header past the German keeper. It remained the fastest goal in a Cup Final until 1997.

I was only eight years old, but my father had already given me a little background on Trautmann, the first German to play in an English FA Cup final.

Newcastle, who were a fine team, went on to win 3-1, but the German keeper pulled off enough great saves to grab the attention of my young eyes. He immediately became my favourite goalkeeper, even though my affiliations were with clubs further south.

Looking back, maybe I was attracted by the very fact that he was a foreigner, and even better than that, a German, the enemy who had ended up in a PoW camp. It all sounded like a yarn out of Boys Own.

Little did we know it then but the very next year at the same venue, Trautmann was to grab the headlines in the 1956 Cup Final against Birmingham City. But more of that match later.

Lest we forget, there was a time when a foreigner was a rare sight on an English football pitch and goals were scored by people with names like, Smith, Greaves and Charlton. These days some line-ups look more like the cast for a Verdi opera.

Foreigners, apart from the Commonwealth, were officially not allowed to play in England until 1978.

But there was always a smattering of overseas players in England, and this does not include the 1950s Accrington Stanley squad, which regularly fielded a team entirely of Scots - a startling thought.

For many years, Trautmann was by far the most famous foreign player in England as he donned the goalkeepers jersey for Man City, deservedly winning the Player of the Year Award in 1956. He was often said to be the first foreigner to win the award, although Ireland's Johnny Carey beat him to it in 1949.

In 2003, he received an honorary OBE for his services to Anglo-German relations after the war. But his contribution to the game went far beyond that. Trautmann was a class act.

It has been well documented that Bert, or Bernhard, arrived in England by a somewhat unorthodox route.

Assigned to a Luftwaffe parachute regiment, he was captured by the Russians on the eastern front, escaped and was recaptured and escaped again on the western front before eventually being taken by the British in Belgium. Apparently the first words the British soldiers said to him were: "Hello Fritz, fancy a cup of tea?"

Sent to a prisoner-of-war camp near Manchester, he played as centre-half for his PoW team. One day the goalie was injured and he stepped in. And that's how Trautmann began his goalkeeping career.

After the war, Trautmann stayed in the area and played in goal for St Helen's Town, before being picked up by Manchester City in 1949.

It was not all roses though. The emotional war wounds had not yet healed and many of the large Jewish community in Manchester didn't like the idea of a German playing for their club. More than 20,000 took to the streets to protest his signing, waving banners which read "Off With The German".

However, once they had seen Trautmann make some brilliant saves, the fans quickly changed their tune and he went on to play 545 times for City between 1949-64.

Trautmann's high point, of course, was the aforementioned 1956 Cup Final at Wembley when he played a blinder to help Man City beat Birmingham 3-1. Twice he was knocked our making heroic saves and twice he staggered to his feet to carry on.

In those days there were no substitutes. It was later discovered he had played the last 15 minutes of the game with a broken neck incurred while diving at the feet of Birmingham forward Peter Murphy.

All those heroics for just 12 a week.

"I couldn't really see anything clearly," Trautmann told the Guardian a few years ago. "It was all foggy." He also admitted that if he had known his neck was broken he would have been off like a shot.

After he retired, Trautmann said his most memorable experience was the 1955 final, rather than the following year's game for which he was best known.

He said that, at the final whistle of the defeat to Newcastle at Wembley: "I just looked around and thought: 'You lucky man."'

In fact, he used to get a bit irritated with people always asking him about the broken neck incident and almost ignoring the rest of his career.

One thing Trautmann did not like about Manchester was the weather, and he sensibly settled for sunny Spain in which to enjoy his retirement.

About the author

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Writer: Nobby Piles
Position: Reporter

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