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Past Players : Bert Trautmann

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The second in our Past Players Series focuses on Bert Trautmann, the German ex-POW who was eventually accepted by Manchester City fans as his determined, fearless displays helped the club to new highs. Our first Past Player focused on fellow German Uwe Rosler – you can see this post by clicking here. Bert was most famed for his 1956 FA Cup heroics as he helped City to victory over Birmingham City despite playing the final 15 minutes of the game with a broken neck. You can see highlights and details of that match in our Past Games post by clicking here.

Bert Trautmann

Berhhard Carl Trautmann was born in Bremen in 1923. At 10-years-old he joined Tura Bremen football club where he played on the wing, reluctantly he joined the Hitler Youth from 1933. During the Second World War he was a paratrooper in western Russia where he was captured and subsequently escaped, however he was recaptured by the British who greeted him with the words “Hello Fritz, fancy a cup of tea?”. Bert gained five bravery medals for his services during the war, including an Iron Cross.

He was taken to POW camp 50 at Ashton where he participated in football matches as on outfield player between camps, however Bert found himself between the sticks one day when a goalkeeper was need. Bert’s paratrooper training became a useful attribute and he excelled in the goalkeeper position. During his time at Ashton as a POW he was deeply moved by the kindness shown to him by the locals.

After the end of the war Bert played for Liverpool County Combination club St Helens Town. During a friendly match against Manchester City he impressed the club officials so much that they set about organising a lucrative contract for the German. Bert said in an interview:

“I played football in the POW camp and after my release I continued living in England. I played for St Helens Town and in 1949 City somehow heard about me and became interested, as they needed a replacement for the great Frank Swift. They approached me and - in a cloak and dagger operation - they signed me. Obviously many City Fans were not very happy with that, nobody wanted a German in the team in these days.”

City season ticket holders threatened a boycott and various groups formed – bombarding the club with protest letters demanding that the club not sign the former member of the Luftwaffe. Twenty thousand people demonstrated against the signing holding aloft banners that read “Off with the German”. Despite problems with his nationality he was also following in the footsteps of the great Frank Swift which would have been a tall order for any goalkeeper at that time.

However the City fans began to accept Bert as he began to show his undoubted ability between the sticks. The City skipper Eric Westwood diplomatically welcomed Bert to the club: “There’s no war in this dressing room, we welcome you as any other member of staff.”

Trautmann went on to establish himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the league. One of Trautmann’s greatest games was the legendary 1956 FA Cup Final against Birmingham City. In the 75th minute Manchester City were leading the game 3-1 when Birmingham striker Peter Murphy collided with the diving Trautmann. After several minutes on the floor Bert returned to his feet rubbing his neck and continued playing – making several fearless key saves to ensure a City victory. (You can see a whole review and highlights of the 1956 FA Cup final in our Greatest Matches section here).

Later x-rays revealed that Trautmann had several cracks to his vertebrae which could have easily killed him. Unfortunately for Bert – three weeks after the heroics he showed in the final he sadly lost his five-year-old son John in a road accident in Bramhall. Bert said of the 1956 final:

“It was our second cup final in two years and we really wanted to win. Birmingham’s forward Peter Murphy hit me accidentally when we were in the lead in the 2nd half. I can’t really say a lot about it. It was an intense pain, like an explosion, I nearly fell unconscious. But somehow I managed to continue and we won the cup. "

Unfortunately for Bert – three weeks after the heroics he showed in the final he sadly lost his five-year-old son John in a road accident in Bramhall. According to Trautmann his wife, Margaret Friar from Manchester whom he married in 1950 struggled to come to terms with the loss ultimately resulting in the breakup of their marriage.

Bert Trautmann appeared in 545 matches for Manchester City during a 15 year period between 1949 and 1964. He did not gain any international caps for Germany since manager Sepp Herberger did not call up German players who were playing in other countries. This was very frustrating for Trautmann as he was widely regarded as the world’s greatest goalkeeper. He won the Footballer of the Year award in 1956.

Trautmann excelled at shot stopping, particularly penalties, saving 60% of those he faced during his career. Manchester United manager Matt Busby said in his pre-match team talks: “Don’t stop to think where you’re going to hit it with Trautmann. Hit it first and think afterwards. If you lookup and wok it out he will read your thoughts and stop it”. Former Manchester City midfielder Neil Young recalled: “The only way to beat him with a shot in training was to mishit it”.

In 1964 he finished his career with a testimonial in front of a crowd of 60,000 people – in stark contrast to those small crowds that initially protested against signing the German keeper. Trautmann captained a Manchester XI that included Bobby Charlton and Dennis Law against an England team that included Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews and Jimmy Armfield. After the match Bobby Charlton called him one of the greatest ever goalkeepers. Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin said: “There have only been two world class goalkeepers. One was Lev Yashin and the other was a German boy who played in Manchester.”

On leaving Manchester City Trautmann had a brief spell with Wellington Town. From 1967 to 68 he managed German side Preussen Munster, taking them to a 13th place finish in Regionalliga West. The German Football Association then sent Trautmann as a development worker to countries without national football structures. At his first post in Burma he led the national side for two years, qualifying for the Olympics in 1972, winning the President’s Cup, a tournament contested by Southeast Asian countries later that year. He later had spells in Tanzania, Liberia, Pakistan and Yemen, until 1988 when he retired and settled in Spain.

He has since helped found the Trautmann Foundation which aims to use his example to improve Anglo-German relationships through football. The Trautmann Foundation promotes sportsmanship and facilitates exchange programmes between young and amateur players in Germany and the UK.

Bert with OBE

In 2004 Bert Trautmann was awarded an OBE for his work for Anglo-German relations. After the ceremony Trautmann said: "I am glad that I was able to do something for the relations between Britain and Germany in a difficult time.

"I truly would like to thank the British for the way I was treated as a prisoner of war and during the whole time in your country."

He said of the work of his foundation: "It is particularly important to bring together the young people from both countries in order to eliminate prejudices.

"I am sure that sport, and especially football, is an excellent way to do that."

Trautmann was clearly a man of great character and determination, something which we all hope our players will demonstrate during this year’s campaign to regain some silverware to a club that does have a history and great players. Some fans, players, ex-players and managers of other clubs need to be reminded that football has a long history and Manchester City is a part of it. City, already deserved of their place in the annals of footballing history will be writing new chapters in the very near future.

Watch the highlights and Berts heroics on our post regarding the 1956 FA Cup Final – CLICK HERE

Unknown said...
25 March 2011 at 20:30  

this man is truly a legend! not only for his great sporting achievements, bravery as a soldier but more importantly for his great character and gratitude and humility shown to his enemies in war but now his friends

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