When he first walked into Manchester City, Bert Trautmann, this tall, blond former Nazi paratrooper, faced his new team-mates and was welcomed with the words, "There's no war in here, Bert."
The Maine Road dressing room embraced him with the single-mindedness that remains common within the game; it's the game that counts and what goes on outside the dressing room and the boundaries of the pitch matters little.
In Trautmann's case, that stands as an admirable trait. The signing of such a player, while Britain was still counting the cost of war, was not well-received by the club's supporters, but the players gave him a chance and soon the fans were onside, too, won over by the German's obvious abilities.
According to this straightforward but engrossing documentary, Trautmann attracted a considerable female following and, this being football, it led to the inevitable sex scandal, except this being the 1950s there was no media-led scandal – or even much sex.
Having had much of his youth consumed by war and imprisonment, Trautmann had no experience of horizontal pursuits – apart from lying in a trench – and decided to do something about it. There is something of the here-and-now about his story; footballer takes advantage of willing female and then abandons her when he discovers she is pregnant. He promised to marry her, but, according to the man himself, got cold feet. Which is rather like the Welsh performance on Saturday. The only highlight for the home support in Cardiff was the chance to give John Terry a booing.
Terry has, you may recall, had a sex scandal of his own to contend with, but the law of the dressing room seems to have won out again and the most reviled man in football/the proudly beating heart of English football (take your choice) is the Three Lion king again.
The Terry story – ghost-written, no doubt – and Trautmann's are each in their own way an example of the zeitgeist. To the outsider, Terry stands for much that is wrong with the game, with an apparent lack of humility – a quality not necessarily incompatible with being a huge sports star, as every sighting of Sachin Tendulkar readily exemplifies – the sealing factor in making it impossible to resist booing every time he sets foot on a football pitch.
Trautmann was booed too, and received death threats. But over time they disappeared and his performances earned him not just respect but admiration, too. "The way I was treated," he said with a shake of the head. "Fairness, kindness, tolerance ... you are a special type of people, you are a special type of island."
Trautmann's story remains one of football's more remarkable ones and bears re-telling; it is instructive both in his gratitude for what happened to him – in no small part through his own efforts – in a country he was brought to as a prisoner of war, and also in the forgiveness that was ultimately displayed to him. Today, perhaps because of the hysteria, often media-driven, that engulfs sport and football in particular, is that still a defining quality?
Trautmann told the story of when he was captured in France, a British soldier approached him and said "Hello Fritz, you want a cup of tea?" Terry accepted last week he wasn't everybody's cup of tea, so at least some things never change when it comes to this country. It's all about tea.Reuse content