Bert Trautmann: A prisoner of war who became an English legend

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Bert Trautmann passed away today at the age of 89.

The former Manchester City goalkeeper rose to footballing prominence upon signing for the club, eventually lifting the FA Cup as a winner of the 1956 Cup Final. But Trautmann's backstory was nothing short of remarkable.

Bernhard, to use his official name, was born in the German city of Bremen in October 1923. He lived a regular life as part of a middle-class German family, before joining the Hitler Youth in 1933.

Trautmann continued his education and competed in sporting activities within the Hitler Youth for numerous awards, winning acclaim at the highest level. But his life was about to change forever at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Trautmann, who was working as a mechanic, was drafted into the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) in 1941 as a radio operator. 

Unfortunately his training revealed that he was not best suited to the role of an operator in war time and Trautmann began to retrain as a paratrooper. 

He took his first tour of duty in Occupied Poland, as his military career led him to other nations such as Belgium, France, Ukraine and other Soviet states.

His tradition of being recognised as a strong performer continued in the military, obtaining numerous medals, including the widely-recognised First Class Iron Cross. He was promoted to the position of Sergeant in the Wehrmacht (armed forces).

By 1944, Trautmann was the only remaining survivor from his unit and he decided to head back to his home in Bremen. 

During this journey he not only avoided allied troops, but was forced to keep a low profile in order to avoid being executed by the Nazi forces for being viewed as a 'deserter' to the forces. 

American troops came across Trautmann, who was seeking refuge in a barn. After pressing him for information they decided that he should be executed. 

He was dragged from the barn and was told to stand with his arms raised. Fearing death, Bert fled and escaped the capture of the American forces.

He eventually ended up imprisoned in the British military prison near Ostend in Belgium, only this time he was not going to attempt an escape. 

Trautmann was later transferred to a camp in Essex, where he was officially classified as a Nazi.

He was moved to Northwich alongside other similar prisoners, before being downgraded and having the classification of 'Nazi' removed from his record.

Trautmann was then moved once again, this time locating in Lancashire. The prison there would regularly hold matches, where Trautmann would play outfield. 

However, following the absence of the regular goalkeeper, 'Bert' picked up the responsibility. It was here that he became known for his goalkeeping ability, with British colleagues branding him 'Bert' due to pronunciation issues with his traditional German birth name.

As the war drew to a close, prisoner of war Trautmann was offered a return to Germany. In what may have been seen as a surprising move, Bert rejected this offer and decided that he wished to remain in England following the end of the war. 

He took up a job as a farm labourer and signed for amateur side St. Helen's Town. His performances attracted ever-increasing crowds as his reputation grew, leading his side to the Mahon Cup final, a local tournament - where over 9,000 people turned up to witness the game.

Off the back of his remarkable 1948-49 season, Manchester City approached the then 26-year-old Trautmann. He signed for the Citizens in October 1949.

Mass protest ensued. Season ticket holders threatened a boycott. Supporters groups organised mass protests. The club was inundated with letters expressing discontent and outrage at the club for signing a former Luftwaffe member. 

If Trauttman's task was not hard enough, it was only to become much harder. Trautmann, now 27, was introduced to the side having replaced club legend Frank Swift.

Trautmann's signing was a cause of major controversy, but sections of the dressing room spoke out in support of their new acquisition. 

Club captain Eric Westwood urged the supporters to be accepting of their new keeper, stating: "There's no war in this dressing room."

The British press followed Trautmann religiously for a sustained period, documenting the story of this former prisoner of war attempting to build a reputation in the English game. 

Protests subsided as Manchester City fans recognised the talent of the German stopper, but widespread abuse was to continue. 

Trautmann would regularly receive slurs and abusive chants relating to his background.

Trautmann went on to play 245 out of 250 games for the Citizens by 1952. His form encouraged German side Schalke to approach City for his services, only to be knocked-back in their pursuit.

His international career never blossomed. He was informed in a meeting with German national team coach Sepp Herberger in 1933 that he would not be considered for selection due to his decision to reside in England, and that the only way of changing this would be to return to Germany and play his domestic football back in his homeland. 

Trautmann refused to return to Germany once more, deciding that his loyalties lay with Manchester City. 

In 1955, Manchester City were to face Newcastle United in the FA Cup Final. The showpiece fixture of the English season was to be graced by a German player for the first time in its existence. 

City fell behind to an early goal and were forced to play with just ten players for the majority of the fixture after an injury to a member of the starting eleven. 

Newcastle United ran out 3-1 winners and Trautmann was forced to settle for a runners-up medal. But he would be back sooner than any would have expected.

The next season Manchester City finished fourth in the top flight, with Trautmann becoming the first ever goalkeeper to win the Football Writers' Association player of the year. 

Once again the Manchester club progressed to the FA Cup Final, with Trautmann as a prominent figure in the side. This time it was Birmingham City who awaited them.

Wembley Stadium played host to the final in which arguably provided one of the most recognisable moments in FA Cup Final history. 

With Manchester City leading by three goal to one, Bert rushed off of his line and collided with Birmingham's left-sided attacker, Peter 'Spud' Murphy. 

Trautmann attempted to clamber to his feet, before collapsing once again. He became dazed and staggered around in his box. Little did everyone watching know, but Trautmann had broken his neck.

Trautmann was not to be deterred. He continued to defend the goal for the remaining fifteen minutes of the game, denying the opposition any further goals. 

A spate of late attacks ensued, but Bert repeatedly stopped Birmingham chances from finding the back of the net.

The final whistle blew, confirming that City had won their third-ever FA Cup. Trautmann was considered the hero, winning adulation from all sections of the football fraternity. Even still, Trautmann was unaware of the extent of his injury. 

He climbed the famous steps of Wembley to receive his medal from Queen Elizabeth II. It was at this point that Prince Philip commented on the state of his neck during the award ceremony, but Bert brushed off the concern and later attended the celebratory dinner that evening, despite being unable to move his head.

After three days, a doctor at the Manchester Royal Infirmary confirmed to Trautmann that he had in fact dislocated five of his neck vertebrae. Bert was forced to miss the majority of the 1956-57 season as a result, as he took several months to recover from the injury. 

In 1964, Trautmann finished his career with a testimonial in front of an estimated 60,000 crowd. He had made 545 appearances, the extent of respect for his achievements noticeable by the presence of Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Sir Tom Finney, Sir Stanley Matthews and Jimmy Armfield as Trautmann captained a Manchester XI against the England senior team.

Fast forwarding to 2004, Trautmann was presented with an OBE at the British Embassy in Berlin for his contribution to Anglo-Germanic relations. 

Speaking after the award of the OBE, Trautmann commented: "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. I am glad that I was able to do something for the relations between Britain and Germany in a difficult time."

In 2005, Trautmann was inducted into the National Hall of Fame, at the National Football Museum, then based in Preston. He became the first-ever German to be named in the English football Hall of Fame, at the age of 81.

Trautmann continued to visit and support Manchester City, both at Maine Road, where he was asked to open a new stand, and at the club's new base, The City of Manchester Stadium. Speaking to The Sun newspaper in 2010, Trautmann revealed: "I watch all of City's games on TV, they're still my club. I love England too and still shout for them!"

Bernhard Carl Trautmann sadly passed away on Friday July 19 2013, at his home in Spain. 'Bert' was 89.

While he may no longer be with us, his legacy will dominate the record books and remain prominent in the nostalgia associated with The FA Cup.


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Bert Trautmann
Manchester City

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