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Born: Monday 22 October 1923, Bremen, Germany
The story of German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann is perhaps one of the most interesting in the history of football. Captured during the Second World War and held as a prisoner of war in England, he stayed in the country on his release and joined Manchester City. His place in history was assured when he broke his neck towards the end of the 1956 FA Cup final but played on and made a number of crucial saves to seal victory for his team.
Born Bernhard Trautmann on 22 October 1923 in Bremen, his family initially lived in a middle class area but economic hardships during the 1930s meant that much of his childhood was spent living in an apartment block in a working class area of the city. Trautmann excelled at sport, not only playing football but also handball and völkerball (a variant of dodgeball). Those latter two sports enabled him to develop the catching and throwing skills which would later serve him well in his career as a goalkeeper.
Like most youngsters growing up in Germany at the time, Trautmann joined the Hitler Youth and was indoctrinated into the views of the Nazi Party. Living in such a totalitarian system, it would only be during his imprisonment in England that he realised what the Nazi regime was really like and reassessed the views that he held as a youngster. When the Second World War broke out, Trautmann was working as an apprentice motor mechanic. He quickly joined up, first serving as a radio operator before retraining as a paratrooper.
He served on the Russian Front, being awarded the Iron Cross, before later being stationed in France. Trautmann had already twice escaped having been captured by both the Russians and the French Resistance, when towards the end of the war he was captured a third time, this time by the British. He was taken back to England and held in a prisoner-of-war camp near Manchester, where he regularly played in football matches as a centre-half. It was only when he picked up an injury one day and swapped places with the goalkeeper that he discovered his real gift.
When the camp closed after the war, Trautmann declined the offer to return to Germany and settled in England permanently. He worked on a farm and joined non-league club St Helens Town where he developed a reputation as an excellent shot-stopper and having impressed First Division Manchester City in a friendly between the clubs, he signed on in October 1949, initially as an amateur. The move was controversial. Thousands of City fans complained about having a former Nazi paratrooper in their team, with some even returning season tickets. The city's Jewish community was also outraged, but opinion began to turn when a senior rabbi expressed the view that one man should not be blamed for the wartime policies of his country.
With City struggling near the foot of the First Division, Trautmann's Football League career did not begin well. He regularly received abuse from crowds at away matches and in his first two away games he conceded a total of ten goals. It was on his first visit to London that he really established his reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in the league. Although City lost 1-0 to Fulham, Trautmann made a string of excellent saves and was eventually applauded off by the previously hostile crowd.
Although that season ended in relegation, Trautmann stayed with Manchester City and helped the club to make an immediate return to the top flight, finishing as Second Division runners-up behind Preston North End. Trautmann was an ever present in the team, not missing a single league game in his first five years with the club. His fame spread and Schalke 04 made an offer to take him back to Germany, but their offer came nowhere near City's valuation.
City often struggled in the league, almost suffering another relegation in 1953, but gradually developed a system of playing which utilised Trautmann perfectly. Playing possession-based football, the team made use of his expert throwing ability which had first been developed as a youngster. The system took them through to the FA Cup final in 1955, but Trautmann was beaten by Jackie Milburn's first minute goal for Newcastle United. Forced by injury to play a large part of hte match with ten men, City went on to lose 3-1.
They returned a year later however to play Birmingham City in the final and it was in that match that Trautmann sealed his place in FA Cup folklore. City led early on and after Birmingham had levelled before half-time, took control with two quick second half goals to move 3-1 ahead. With 17 minutes to play, Birmingham were looking for a way back into the match and Trautmann made a brave save at the feet of Peter Murphy, the resultant collision briefly knocking him out. It seemed he would have to leave the game, but with no substitutes allowed a dazed Trautmann insisted on continuing and although clearly in great pain, made two more vital saves late in the game to preserve his team's lead.
The pain from his injury did not recede and an x-ray three days later showed that he had broken a vertebra in his neck in the collision, with only the position of other dislocated vertebrae preventing further damage which could have been fatal. Trautmann became the hero of the cup success and that year was named Footballer of the Year in England, the first foreign player to receive the award. His recovery took some months and even when he did return he still seemed to be suffering as a result of his injury, but he nevertheless went on to remain a regular in the Manchester City team for another eight years.
City had another narrow escape from relegation in 1959, staying up by just a single point, but the following year Trautmann was selected to represent the Football League in inter-league games, even captaining the side once. Having been overlooked by West Germany because he was playing overseas, those games were his only experience of 'international' football. In 1963 City were eventually relegated to the Second Division again and a year later Trautmann made the decision to retire at the age of 39, having made more than 500 league appearances for the club. When he left, more than 47,000 people turned out for his testimonial match.
After a brief cameo in non-league football with Wellington Town, Trautmann became a coach. He managed Fourth Division Stockport County in 1965-66, but an extremely limited playing budget handicapped his chances of success. Finally returning home to Germany in 1967, he coached Preußen Münster and Opel Rüsselsheim before taking a job with the national association, working in overseas development.
That job led to Trautmann coaching the national teams of Burma, Tanzania, Liberia and Pakistan and lasted all the way through until 1988, when he finally retired. In 1990, he moved to live in Spain, near to Valencia. In his later years he has spoken publicly about the importance of countries not going to war over issues of race or ideology and was awarded an honourary OBE for his work in developing Anglo-German relations.
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- Published on Wednesday, 07 March 2012 17:59