BERT Trautmann, who has died in Spain, aged 89, was a superb goalkeeper, best remembered for his heroics in playing the final 15 minutes of the 1956 FA Cup Final with “a broken neck”. It has often been said he was England’s favourite German.
Trautmann was born in a middle-class suburb of Bremen, where his father worked in a fertiliser and chemicals factory; he had a brother, three years his junior.
The young Berni – as he was then known – joined the Hitler Youth, where his sporting prowess was given full rein. Back then he played centre-half at football and also played handball, but his greatest sporting achievements came in 1938 when he was placed second in Germany in three events at the Hitler Youth Games, held in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. These events were the long jump, the 60 metres sprint and hand grenade throwing.
Back in Bremen, he began an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic, before, aged 17, he volunteered for the Luftwaffe, joining-up in January, 1941. He fought on the Russian Front, narrowly survived a burst appendix and then volunteered for the paratroops. He fought in the retreat from Stalingrad, before being transferred to the Western Front, fighting in Normandy, at Arnhem and in the Battle of the Bulge, in the Ardennes, before, in March, 1945, he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Cheshire.
As a former member of the Hitler Youth and the Nazi Party, Trautmann was classified as a “black” – a hard-core Nazi. However, his training as a mechanic and ability to drive resulted in a transfer to another camp, in Ashton-in-Makerfield, as driver to Camp Commandant Sir Arthur Glendenning.
He also resumed his football career, playing for the prison camp team, which was managed by a Scottish major. Injured in one match, Trautmann went into goal and had found his true position. The PoW team then began to play Sunday matches against local English teams.
Trautmann, now considered to have been de-Nazified, was due to be repatriated to Germany in 1948, but, having already got his English girlfriend Marion pregnant – they had a daughter, Freda, from whom Trautmann was estranged for many years after deserting her mother – he opted to stay in Lancashire and work on the clearing up of German bombs and bomb damage.
In early 1948, he signed for St Helen’s Town and decided that he was no longer to be known as Bernhard or Berni, but by the British name, Bert. His impressive performances with St Helen’s brought him to the attention of Manchester City and, on 6 October, 1949, he signed for the Maine Road club, much to the disgust of his father-in-law, St Helen’s secretary Jack Friar, whose daughter Margaret, Trautmann had got pregnant and married.
The City fans were outraged at the idea of the club signing a German, but, after just five games in the reserves, he made his first team debut at Bolton, on 19 November, 1949. For the next decade and a half, he would be City’s first-choice goalkeeper, going on to play over 550 games for the club, before receiving a star-studded testimonial.
The highlight of this period was City’s FA Cup Final win in 1956. The team had lost to Newcastle the previous year, but, against Birmingham City, they made amends.
Gone was the nervousness of the previous years and goals from Joe Hayes, Jack Dyson and former Hibs “Famous Five” man Bobby Johnstone had City cruising when, in the 75th minute, Trautmann came bravely off his line to save at the feet of Birmingham’s Peter Murphy.
Murphy caught him behind the ear with his knee and Trautmann was temporarily knocked out. However, although in obvious pain, he played on until the final whistle and was able to go up to collect his medal and return to Manchester with the victorious City party.
It wasn’t until the Tuesday, after he had walked into A&E at Manchester Royal Infirmary that the true extent of the injury was discovered – Trautmann had cracked and dislocated two vertebrae in his neck and only the fact they had jammed together had prevented his death.
He recovered, returned to the City ranks, eventually becoming club captain before his retirement.
Through his long career in England, Trautmann was recognised as one of the top goalkeepers in the world, but the German FA then refused to cap players playing outside West Germany, so his only international experience came in 1960, when he captained the Football League XI against the Irish League and played for them against the Italian League.
He had a short spell as a player in non-league football, before briefly being general manager of Stockport County. In 1967 he returned to Germany, where he managed two regional league clubs, before the German FA offered him a role as a globe- trotting coach.
He coached Burma to the 1972 Olympics, then worked in Tanzania, Liberia, Pakistan and Yemen, until 1988, when he retired and settled in Spain.
He had been Footballer of the Year in 1956 and, even long after his retirement, he was always given a very warm welcome when he returned to Manchester. In 2005 he was awarded an honorary OBE for his work in fostering British-German relations.
He and Margaret Friar, who had three children – John, who was killed in a car accident in 1956, Mark and Stephen – were divorced in the 1960s.
He married Ursula Van der Heyde, a German national, while living in Burma in the 1970s, but divorced in 1982.
From 1990, Trautmann lived with his third wife Marlis in a small bungalow on the Spanish coast near Valencia.
He helped found the Trautmann Foundation, which aims to use his example to improve Anglo-German relations through football.
His journey from Nazi zealot to England’s favourite German was a long one. He had his faults, but one thing is very clear – he was a superb goalkeeper and an influential figure in the art of goalkeeping. Such luminaries as Lev Yashin, Bob Wilson and Gordon Banks all spoke of his influence on them.