On the 19th July Manchester City fans mourned the loss of one of the true hero’s in the history of the club
Brought up during times of inter-war strife in Germany, Bert Trautmann was enroled into the Luftwaffe early in the Second World War, serving as a paratrooper. He fought on the Eastern Front for three years, earning five medals, including an Iron Cross. Later in the war, he was transferred to the Western Front, where he was captured by the British as the war drew to a close. One of only 90 of his original 1,000-man regiment to survive the war, he was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire. Trautmann refused an offer of repatriation, and following his release in 1948, settled in Lancashire, combining farm work with playing goalkeeper for local football team St Helens Town.
Performances for St Helens gained Trautmann a reputation as an able goalkeeper, resulting in interest from Football League clubs. In October 1949, he signed for Manchester City, a club playing in the country’s highest level of football, the First Division. The club’s decision to sign a former Axis paratrooper sparked protests and 20,000 people attended a demonstration. Over time, he gained acceptance through his performances in the City goal, playing in all but five of the club’s next 250 matches.
Named FWA Footballer of the Year for 1956, Trautmann entered football folklore with his performance in the 1956 FA (Football Association) Cup Final. With 17 minutes of the match remaining, Trautmann suffered a serious injury while diving at the feet of Birmingham City’s Peter Murphy. Despite his injury, he continued to play, making crucial saves to preserve his team’s 3–1 lead. His neck was noticeably crooked as he collected his winner’s medal; three days later an X-ray revealed it to be broken, and from that moment his bravery was embroiled into the hearts of not only the blue side of Manchester, but the whole nation
Trautmann played for Manchester City until 1964, making 545 appearances. After his playing career, he moved into management, first with lower-division sides in England and Germany, and later as part of a German Football Association development scheme that took him to several countries, including Burma, Tanzania and Pakistan. In 2004, he was appointed an honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for promoting Anglo-German understanding through football.
Some Manchester City fans were unhappy about signing a former member of the Luftwaffe. Season ticket holders threatened a boycott, and various groups in Manchester and around the country bombarded the club with protest letters. In addition to this difficulty, Trautmann was replacing the recently retired Frank Swift, one of the greatest keepers in the club’s history. Though privately expressing doubts about the signing, club captain Eric Westwood, a Normandy veteran, made a public display of welcoming Trautmann by announcing, “There’s no war in this dressing room”. Trautmann made his first team debut on 19 November against Bolton Wanderers, and after a competent display in his first home match, protests shrank as fans discovered his talent. He continued to receive abuse from crowds at away matches, which affected his concentration in some early games; in December 1949, he conceded seven goals at Derby County.
City’s match against Fulham in January 1950 was Trautmann’s first visit to London. The match received widespread media attention, as most of the British press were based there; several leading sportswriters watched Trautmann in action for the first time. The damage caused to the city by the Luftwaffe meant former paratrooper Trautmann was a target of hatred for the crowd, who yelled “Kraut” and “Nazi”. City were struggling in the league, and widely expected to suffer a heavy defeat but a string of saves from Trautmann meant the final score was a narrow 1–0 loss. At the final whistle, Trautmann received a standing ovation, and was applauded off the pitch by both sets of players. The Manchester City team struggled throughout the season, and was relegated to the Second Division.
Early Manchester City Career
Manchester City returned to the top flight at its first attempt, and in the following years Trautmann established himself as one of the best keepers in the league, playing in all but five of his club’s next 250 league matches. By 1952, his fame had spread to his home country, leading Schalke 04 to offer Manchester City £1,000 for his services. The offer was refused, the club responded that they thought Trautmann to be worth twenty times more.
In the mid-1950s, Manchester City manager Les McDowall introduced a new tactical system using a deep-lying centre-forward, which became known as the Revie Plan after Don Revie who played centre-forward. The system depended on maintaining possession of the ball wherever possible, which required Trautmann to make use of his throwing ability. For goalkeepers of Trautmann’s era, it was usual to kick the ball as far as possible downfield after making a save. By contrast, Trautmann, influenced by the Hungarian goalkeeper Gyula Grosics, sought to start attacks by throwing the ball to a wing-half, typically Ken Barnes or John McTavish. The wing-half then passed to Revie to develop the attack.
1956 FA Cup Final
Manchester City had a strong season in 1955–56, finishing fourth in the league and reached the FA Cup final against Birmingham City. As one of the team’s most prominent performers, won the FWA Footballer of the Year Award shortly before the match, the first goalkeeper to win the award. Two days later, Trautmann stepped out onto the Wembley pitch for the match that gained him worldwide acclaim.
During the previous final, nerves had contributed to the opposition scoring an early goal. The City team was more settled on this occasion and scored an early goal, a left-footed strike by Joe Hayes. Birmingham equalised on 14 minutes. The match remained level until midway through the second half, when Jack Dyson and Bobby Johnstone scored two goals in as many minutes to give Manchester City a 3–1 lead. Birmingham attacked strongly in the next ten minutes. In the 75th minute, Trautmann, diving at an incoming ball, was knocked out in a collision with Birmingham’s Peter Murphy in which he was hit in the neck by Murphy’s right knee. No substitutes were permitted in those days, so Trautmann, dazed and unsteady on his feet, carried on. For the remaining 15 minutes he defended his net, making a crucial interception to deny Murphy once more. Manchester City held on for the victory, and Trautmann was the hero because of his spectacular saves in the last minutes of the match. Trautmann admitted later that he had spent the last part of the match “in a kind of fog”.
His neck continued to cause him pain, and Prince Philip commented on its crooked state as he gave Trautmann his winner’s medal. Trautmann attended that evening’s post-match banquet despite being unable to move his head, and went to bed expecting the injury to heal with rest. As the pain did not recede, the following day he went to St George’s Hospital, where he was told he merely had a crick in his neck which would go away. Three days later, he got a second opinion from a doctor at Manchester Royal Infirmary. An X-ray revealed he had dislocated five vertebrae, the second of which was cracked in two. The third vertebra had wedged against the second, preventing further damage which could have cost Trautmann his life.
Trautmann appeared in 545 matches for City during the 15-year period between 1949 and 1964.
In 1964, he ended his career with a testimonial in front of a crowd officially numbered at 47,000, though the true figure was estimated to be closer to 60,000. Trautmann captained a special joint Manchester City and Manchester United XI that included Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, against an England team that included Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews and Jimmy Armfield.
After a couple of months pondering his future career plans, he received a telephone call from Stockport County chairman Victor Bernard, who offered him the position of general manager. Stockport was a struggling lower league club with a small budget, and Trautmann’s appointment was an attempt to improve its image. Many people in the local area supported one of the two Manchester clubs, so to stimulate interest Trautmann and Bernard decided to move matches to Friday evenings, when neither Manchester club would be playing. This improved revenue, but the team continued to struggle. Trautmann resigned in 1966 following a disagreement with Bernard. From 1967 to 1968, he was the manager of the German team Preußen Münster, taking them to a 13th-place finish in the Regionalliga West, following which he had a short spell at Opel Rüsselsheim.
The German Football Association then sent him as a development worker to countries without national football structures. His first posting was in Burma, where he spent two years as the national coach, qualifying for the Olympics in 1972, and winning the President’s Cup, a tournament contested by southeast Asian countries, later that year. His work subsequently took him to Tanzania, Liberia, Pakistan and Yemen, until 1988, when he retired and settled in Spain.
Trautmann died at home in Spain on 19 July 2013 at the age of 89. He had suffered two heart attacks earlier in the year. German Football Association president Wolfgang Niersbach said that Trautmann was “an amazing sportsman and a true gentleman … a legend”. Former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson tweeted “Amazing man who helped bring our warring countries closer together”. Joe Corrigan, a former Manchester City goalkeeper said Trautmann was “a fantastic man and was one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time”
He will no doubt go down in history as one of the most heroic players in the English football league for continuing to play the Cup final with a broken bone in his neck, and will be remembered by not only The blue side of Manchester, but the whole nation. I have never known a German soldier who fought our boys in the war to be loved by so many Englishmen and women,
Rest in peace Sir Bert Trautmann….. We salute you.
Many footballers suffer from spinal injuries that end their careers, so to help awareness please refer to Spine Universe for more information.