Bert Trautmann obituary: Footballer who overcame prejudice and went on to play with a broken neck in the FA Cup final

A prisoner of war, he spurned repatriation and worked instead with a bomb disposal unit - he later served as attache to the West Germany squad during the 1966 World Cup finals in England

For most footballers, keeping goal in an FA Cup final while suffering from a broken neck would be the most dramatic, and traumatic, event of their lives. But for Bert Trautmann, by common consent among the finest goalkeepers in football history despite never playing for his country, an excruciating, life-threatening interlude at Wembley in 1956 was a mere trifle compared to what he had lived through already.

Indeed, Trautmann counted himself fortunate to be still breathing, let alone playing for Manchester City in the English game’s annual showpiece. As a German paratrooper in the Second World War he had survived bloody battles and debilitating deprivations, first during his country’s abortive invasion of Russia and later while fighting to repel the Allies on the Western Front.

Then, after settling in England and choosing to make his living in the public eye, he faced a cruel barrage of racist vitriol from those who could not put aside the bitterness of the recent conflict. That he emerged from the ordeal as one of the best-loved and most highly respected players of his generation speaks volumes for the blond giant’s immense talent, his bullish strength of will and, not least, his sheer charisma.

A self-confident, gregarious, though rather quick-tempered boy, Trautmann grew up in a Germany in which the Hitler youth movement was gaining rampant momentum and, caught inexorably by the spirit of the times, he became a member. However, the ceaseless propaganda and indoctrination never turned him into a political zealot, most of his energy being concentrated on a wide range of sports. He was a natural athlete, representing the Silesia region in national championships at Berlin’s Olympic stadium in 1938, displaying the physical strength and dexterity that was to stand him in good stead in later life.

However, professional football was not on the horizon when Trautmann took his first job, as an apprentice car mechanic in Bremen, an occupation for which he showed natural aptitude. Soon after the war began he joined the Luftwaffe, yearning to be a pilot but serving as a wireless operator before transferring to the paratroop regiment. He was sent to Poland and thence to Russia, enduring the horrors and hardship of a long and fruitless campaign. Trautmann fought and killed in nightmarish conditions – the ground was frozen so hard that the dead could not be buried – before falling back to help combat the Allies’ advance into France. During this operation he emerged unscathed from a succession of scrapes, including capture by and escape from the Resistance when serving as a dispatch rider, before being taken for the final time as the Allies were mopping up after D-Day.

In 1945, having won five medals for bravery, the 22-year-old “veteran” was shipped, bewildered and fatigued, to England as a prisoner of war. He was placed in a camp at Ashton-in-Makerfield in Lancashire, where he was quick to recover his characteristic joie de vivre, revelling in the camaraderie and relishing conditions which amounted to luxury compared to his recent privations. He spurned the chance of repatriation, making a new start in a new land with jobs on a local farm and with a bomb-disposal unit.

Meanwhile, the seeds of future fame and fortune had been sown. At the camp Trautmann had played plenty of football, switching from his former position of rumbustious centre-forward to goalkeeper and discovering that he was enormously good at it. In 1948 he signed for St Helens Town, an enterprising non-League team with whom he made such rapid and gigantic strides that he was trailed by a small posse of leading clubs. Burnley appeared favourites to acquire his signature, but in November 1949 they were pipped by Manchester City, and a few weeks later Trautmann found himself pitched into First Division action.

Instantly, and inevitably, the big, muscular German was embroiled in harrowing controversy. A large and vociferous faction of Manchester’s extensive Jewish community objected vigorously to the employment of a former paratrooper so soon after the war. Others joined what became an hysterical campaign, with Trautmann subjected to a flood of hate mail and more reasoned, if equally heated, letters appearing in the press. Some ex-servicemen threatened to boycott City if the new ’keeper remained, season tickets were returned and there was predictable abuse at away grounds.

Trautmann’s dignified reaction spoke volumes for his strength of character, never more so than on his first visit to bomb-ravaged London. That day at Fulham he was confronted by the most malicious jibes to date, but he refused to be intimidated. As “Heil Hitler” chants resounded around a seething Craven Cottage he performed so magnificently that at the final whistle he was given a standing ovation by the majority of the crowd and the Fulham players formed a spontaneous guard of honour as he left the pitch.

Trautmann’s cause was furthered immeasurably by his ever-more outstanding prowess. A huge and commanding figure radiating authority between the posts, he combined agility and sharp reflexes with boundless courage and a highly developed positional sense. At times he was a showman, playing shamelessly to the gallery; at others he frustrated opponents with the apparent ease of his saves, gathering powerful shots calmly in his bucket-like, seemingly prehensile hands. It became apparent that here was a worthy successor to Frank Swift, City’s previous brilliant and much-loved goalkeeper, but the team was woefully poor, being relegated at the end of his first season at Maine Road.

Newly married to an English girl, Trautmann seemed settled in his adopted country and contributed mightily as his club bounced back into the top flight at the first attempt in 1950-51. Thereafter, while working part-time in a garage, he helped them to consolidate, refusing at least one tempting offer to return to Germany.

As the 1950s wore on the German-baiting declined and Trautmann became one of the most widely admired footballers in the League. However, his absence from his homeland appeared to preclude international honours and it was not until 1955 that he came within touching distance of a major domestic prize when City reached the FA Cup final. Hamstrung by an injury to full-back Jimmy Meadows, they were beaten by Newcastle United, but their day – and Trautmann’s – was not long in coming. The following season was to prove the most momentous of his life, encompassing professional accolades, a potentially fatal accident and a devastating personal tragedy.

He became the first goalkeeper and the first foreigner to be voted Footballer of the Year, then performed to his customary splendid standard as City moved into a match-winning position in their second successive FA Cup final. Then with 17 minutes left he was knocked out in a sickening collision with Birmingham City’s Peter Murphy after plunging at the attacker’s feet with typical boldness.

Regaining consciousness, he reeled around in a daze before rejoining the action and before long was diving among the boots once more. The match won, he was in mounting pain, but dragged himself up to the Royal box to receive his medal from the Queen, then gritted his teeth throughout the celebrations at the Cafe Royal. The rest of the City party believed he had merely aggravated an old muscle strain and it was not until several days later, after a series of examinations had revealed nothing untoward, that an X-ray told the terrifying truth: his second vertebra was broken in two and lodged against a third, which held the fragments in place and so saved his life. Any sudden jolt could have killed him.

He was out for seven months, and even then recovery proved gradual, but in the mean time he was subjected to still greater trauma. His five-year-old son John was killed in a road accident, a blow which left him and his wife, Margaret, mentally shattered.

Slowly he picked up the pieces of his career and in 1958-59 – boosted by the arrival of another son, Stephen – he played some of the finest football of his life as he helped City avoid demotion. Though never quite as acrobatic as before, Trautmann regained his position as one of the world’s leading ’keepers, and in 1960 became the first, and still the only, German to be selected for the Football League, an honour compounded when he was awarded the captaincy.

Despite attaining his late thirties Trautmann remained City’s first-choice ’keeper until 1962-63; he retired in 1964 when more than 48,000 fans paid tribute at his testimonial match.

Thereafter he was denied the Maine Road coaching post for which he had hoped, playing briefly and ingloriously – he was sent off in his second and final match – for non-League Wellington Town. Next came a spell as general manager (for most of one season he was team manager also) of Fourth Division Stockport County, whom he left after disagreements with the owner, Victor Bernard. Trautmann’s worldwide renown was underlined by his success as attache to West Germany during the 1966 World Cup finals in England, an association which led to coaching jobs in his homeland, first with Preussen Munster in 1967, then with Opel Russelheim in 1969.

They brought no success, however, and, his marriage having broken down (despite the arrival of another son, Mark), Trautmann was at a temporarily low ebb. But the big man was nothing if not resilient and, after returning to garage work for a time he was employed by the German government to coach around the world. Two successful years in charge of Burma’s national side were followed by stints in Tanzania, Liberia, Pakistan, Yemen and Malta, before he retired – having remarried twice, to Ushi and then Marlys – in 1988.

Bert Trautmann, who died at home in Spain having suffered two heart attacks earlier in the year, lived an eventful and fulfilling life. He was a magnificent goalkeeper, a magnetic and occasionally headstrong character and a very brave man. The post-war sporting scene would have been immeasurably the poorer for his absence.

Bernhard Carl Trautmann, footballer and manager: born Bremen 22 October 1923; played for Manchester City 1949-64; manager, Stockport County 1964-66; national coach, Burma 1972-74, Liberia 1978-80, Pakistan 1980-83; honorary OBE 2004; married 1950 Margaret Friar (marriage dissolved; two sons, and one son deceased), secondly Ursula Van der Heyde (divorced 1982), thirdly Marlis; died Valencia 19 July 2013.

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game