Sport on TV: Trautmann glad to be caught in the net of English football
Sunday 27 March 2011
In The Bert Trautmann Story (Yesterday, Thursday), we're told the German goalkeeper was "the only man ever to be awarded the Iron Cross, the OBE and the title of Footballer of the Year". He is also one of very few Manchester City players to have a medal of any kind. The current squad may be weighed down by trinkets and baubles but they are meaningless; Trautmann's trophies, however, mean an awful lot.
He earned a mere £10 a week in the days of the maximum wage, not £200,000. But he was weighed down by other concerns: his past, and his plaster cast. For he is a legend of English football for two reasons: he had been a Prisoner of War, and he broke his neck in the 1956 FA Cup final – and kept on playing. We learn that the two facts are connected: Trautmann's trademark, bravely diving at the feet of strikers, came from his paratrooper training.
This was not the only skill acquired in the service of the Third Reich that would prove useful in another field. As a 16-year-old in the Hitler Youth, he was ranked as the second best in the fatherland at the long jump, 60m dash – and grenade throwing. It may have taken a while for his colleagues to drop the habit of diving for cover when he hurled the ball upfield.
Trautmann was assimilated into post-war Britain with remarkable ease, considering. "I've always said my education began in the UK," says the 87-year-old. "The way I was treated... fairness, kindness, tolerance. You're a special type of people." You have to wonder if he would be accorded the same courtesies in the modern era, even with so many foreign legions on parade,
He certainly managed to ease his way into society. He admits that by the age of 23 he had not yet slept with a woman, yet suddenly they were clamouring for his attention. He met Marion Greenhall and got her pregnant. But having discovered the pleasures of the flesh, he was unwilling to give them up so soon and three days before they were to be married he absconded. So here's an early example of today's feckless and morally bankrupt footballer. It's about the adulation, not the wages.
But this man had much more on his conscience than a string of affairs. With the Luftwaffe he spent three years on the Russian front and at the age of 18 he witnessed a massacre of Jews. "If I had been a little bit older," he said quietly, "I would have probably... [long pause] committed suicide." He was lucky, too, missing the desperate retreat from Stalingrad after being given unexpected leave.
Bizarrely he faced the prospect of an armed enemy again when he received a death threat from a Spurs fan. He hauled a Tottenham player down in the box in the '56 Cup semi-final but got away with it. The fan said he would be waiting behind the goal at Wembley with a gun.
As it happened, death stalked him in the form of that broken neck at the feet of Birmingham City's Pete Murphy. One pat on the back from a supporter after City had won the game could have killed him.
As Bob Wilson said: "It's like a Roy of the Rovers story except you'd never believe it." From the images of him flinging himself through the air, Bert might perhaps have been called Salmon rather than Trautmann. Either way, Roy of the Reich is even more of a boy's own hero than that other great goalie, Billy the Fish.
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