Germany’s relationship with England has been strained over the last hundred years or so, to say the least. There have, though, been a couple of people that have helped to bridge the gap between these two nations, and none have stuck in the mind for quite as long as Bert Trautmann. Born in 1923, Trautmann’s early life was as unremarkable as possible for somebody growing up in Nazi Germany. He was enlisted into the German Air Force at 17, and lasted nearly five years before being captured on the outskirts of Berlin. Jumping over a fence to escape American soldiers, he landed at the feet of two British soldiers. “Hello Fritz – fancy a cup of tea?”, was the first thing they said to him.
Considering the house-to-house fighting that was going on in Berlin at the time, it was quite possibly something of a relief to be shipped off to Ashton, near Manchester, as a POW. His talents were first spotted when playing at the POW camp (initially as a midfielder, he moved in goal because there was a shortage of goalkeepers in the camp) and, having fallen in love with a girl from Manchester, he settled in Manchester after the war, and went into non-league football playing for St Helens, before joining Manchester City in 1949. The response was as predictable as it was depressing. City were deluged with 20,000 letters protesting at a “Kraut” playing in goal for their club. There was even a mass protest outside Maine Road. But, to their immense credit, City refused to buckle under the pressure and continued to select Trautmann, who won over the supporters with a series of brilliant performances. His contemparies rated him amongst the best in the world.
It was the 1956 FA Cup final that proved the defining moment of his career. 3-1 up with fifteen minutes to play, Trautmann dived at the feet of Birmingham striker Peter Murphy, coming off clearly second-best. In an era before substitutes, he insisted on playing the last quarter of an hour, making a string of brilliant saves to almost single-handledly win the Cup for City. Trautmann’s own recollections of it are vivid: “When I came to, lying on the pitch with City trainer Laurie Burnett waving smelling salts under my nose, the pain was incredible. I couldn’t see properly, it was as though I was standing in thick fog and remember very little of the rest of the game or receiving my medal from the Queen.”. Three days after the match, he was x-rayed, and found to have broken a verterbae in his neck. Trautmann had won the FA Cup for Manchester City with a broken neck. Doctors at the time said that it was a miracle that he was still alive.
Trautmann played a total of 545 matches for Manchester City between 1949 and 1964. He now lives in Valencia. His story is one of courage on two fronts. On one hand, his sheer physical strength of will provided the FA Cup with one of its most enduring tales of courage. On the other, the took on the prejudices of the British people and won them over with the force of his personality and the quality of his football.
And for the one or two of you that know why I’m putting this up here now, he’s doing fine. A very lucky boy indeed.