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Trautmann's talent for life

Published: Friday 28 October 2005, 8.01CET
The extraordinary career of England's original favourite German, inducted last week into his adopted country's National Football Museum Hall of Fame.
by Adam Szreter
from Manchester
Published: Friday 28 October 2005, 8.01CET

Trautmann's talent for life

The extraordinary career of England's original favourite German, inducted last week into his adopted country's National Football Museum Hall of Fame.

If the makers of the recently released film Goal! ever decide to produce another film about football once their trilogy is over they could do worse than study the life of Bert Trautmann, the first overseas player and the first goalkeeper to be voted England's Footballer of the Year.

Knocked unconscious
Trautmann, of whom Sir Bobby Charlton has said, "I have never seen a goalkeeper to compare with Trautmann in the 1950s", is most famous for breaking his neck in the 1956 FA Cup final between Manchester City FC and Birmingham City FC. With about 17 minutes left he dived at the feet of Birmingham striker Peter Murphy and was knocked unconscious, still clutching the ball. He was revived by smelling salts and played on. Manchester City won 3-1, with Trautmann making some important saves in the closing minutes.

Broken vertebrae
Black and white images of Trautmann wandering around his goal rubbing his neck, and later as he collected his winner's medal, are among the most famous in British footballing folklore. Four days later x-rays revealed that the second of five broken vertebrae had split in two, and that he was only alive because one of the adjoining vertebrae had pushed up against it and held it in place. By then, however, Trautmann was no stranger to cheating death.

Born in Bremen, Bernhard Trautmann was 17 when he joined the Luftwaffe as a paratrooper and was one of only 90 to survive the Second World War. He was among a handful who walked away from the bombing of the town of Kleve, he survived a hand-grenade blowing up in his face, he was captured by the Russians and by the French resistance and escaped both times, and then by the Americans in 1945. He was led to the middle of a field to be shot but once again escaped, albeit with the help of some obliging GIs on this occasion.

Prisoner of war
Finally, and happpily for Manchester City fans, he was captured by the British and sent to a prisoner of war camp at Ashton-in-Makerfield in Lancashire, where he remained until 1948. Having taken up football in the camp he joined City the following year, but signing a German player in those days was not popular with everyone in England and although Trautmann plays it down, it is believed he received a considerable amount of hate mail.

Bad reaction
"The reaction was not so much against the individual Bert Trautmann, but against the German government," he told "A German appearing in England so soon after the war to play football did shock some people, but with the help of my fellow professionals, especially those at Maine Road, and the British public I soon got over any difficulties. It all petered out and I played for nearly 15 years for Man City. It's my home here, like Germany is my home."

OBE awarded
Trautmann, who also played in the 1955 final when City lost to Newcastle United FC, was the only German ever to appear in the FA Cup final until Dietmar Hamman did so for Liverpool FC in 1999. Last year he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Anglo-German understanding, and last week he was back in the city where he made his name to be inducted into England's National Football Museum Hall of Fame, just two days before his 82nd birthday.

Hall of Fame
"Of course it was a big surprise," Trautmann said during the course of an evening when he was surrounded by other stars of the English game past and present such as Sir Alex Ferguson, the Charlton brothers, Bryan Robson and Ian Wright. "I'm very delighted, very grateful and very honoured. My case is a special one, coming after the war and playing for Man City, but it's a very, very great honour." He even went so far as to describe the moment when he received his award from Sir Bobby Charlton as the "highlight of his life".

Long throw
Trautmann, who has lived in Valencia for the past 20 years, influenced many goalkeepers of his generation by moving the ball quickly upfield with a long throw. Of today's generation he says: "I don't see that many games, I generally only see highlights when they just show the goals, and any goalkeeper looks bad if they score against you."

Divided loyalties
Next year's FIFA World Cup in Germany of course could test Trautmann's loyalties to the limit if both England and the hosts prosper but for the moment he will settle for just being there. "I might go over there if I get an invitation from the German government," he said. "Otherwise no!"

Last updated: 28/10/05 9.57CET

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