The words “Hero” and “Legend” are too easily bandied about these days. WE have even seen the word ‘survivor’ misappropriated by our Prime Minister in the past week. Sadly one man who can be described as all three of these passed away last night, the former Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann.
Trautmann grew up in Bremen in Germany and became involved with the Hitler Youth in the main because of its sporting activities, it was at the time like the boy scouts with healthy outdoor activity, few knew what the underlying aim was least of all Mr Trautmann.
The war came and he became caught up in it, a practical joke when stationed on the russian front backfired and a quirk of fate saw the officer concerned find out those responsible. He was court-martialled and sent to military prison and spent time in a cell where the floor was permanently covered in water and rats were his cell-mates. Luck was on his side when he was struck down with appendicitis and was evacuated to a military hospital.
Sent back to join his regiment he took cover in a school during a bombing raid and was buried under rubble for a day, an event that caused him breathing issues for the rest of his life. He was captured twice by the Americans and British; on the first occasion he was allowed to escape because the troops did not want the burden of having to escort prisoners. The second time he was taken to Britain and became a POW at Ashton-in-Makerfield, in Lancashire.
He played football in the camp and when the war was over opted to stay in Britain. He started playing for St Helens and was eventually spotted by Manchester City and signed by them.
There were massive protests against his signing and he received a torrent of abuse in the newspapers and personally via letters, many understandably from the Jewish community. He did not run away when so many would have. he was helped by the fact that Manchester City’s communal rabbi came out in support of him. In no time Trautmann had the fans on his side as well.He was he big, strong and brave, he was a more than adequate replacement for Frank Swift but he was also friendly towards the fans and the people of England.
Many people outside of Manchester forget that City lost the 1955 FA Cup Final to Newcastle United, but a year later they were back at Wembley, and Bert Trautmann would forever be remembered for their victory, despite Don Revie, the future Leeds United Manager pulling the strings in their 3-1 victory over Birmingham City.
With about a quarter of an hour left in the match, Peter Murphy chased a Birmingham through ball into the penalty box. Trautmann rushed out, and brave as ever, dived head first for the ball. Murphy’s knee connected with Trautmann’s neck. He received treatment on the pitch and was accompanied off, but with no substitutes in those days he came back out and somehow managed to play on despite being in great pain. Afterwards, when he was X-rayed, was it discovered that his neck had been broken.
He received the prestigious Football Writers’ Association player of the year award in 1956, the first time it had been given to a foreigner and the first time a goalkeeper had claimed the award. Despite his injury, he was back in action for City the following season and continued with the club through to their relegation to the Second Division in 1963, retiring the following year. He had a short spell as manager of Stockport County.
Tragedy followed him off the pitch when his son from his first marriage was knocked down by a car and killed running to the ice cream van.
Sadly Germany never picked him for their national team, they did however make use of him as a liaison man at the 1966 World Cup in England. Many Germans believe had he played and being familiar with Wembley he may well have helped Germany defeat the hosts.
He worked trying to help develop football in Africa in his retirement and he was honoured by the Queen with an OBE in 2004 for his work for Anglo-German relations. He also launched his own sport-focused foundation with the same aim.
Bert Trautmann never believed in war or saw the sense in it and his experiences of it saw him make sure he did all he could to heal rifts and try and bring pleasure to people’s lives rather than pain. Last night he passed away but his achievements in life should never be forgotten. He was a remarkable man, a Legend, a Hero and a survivor.
(He was also an athlete this writer was desperate to meet, but sadly it never happened for various reasons, however I have a signed photograph and goalkeeping glove that I will always treasure).