R.I.P Bert Trautmann OBE

In his time as a City supporter during the fifties,sixties and seventies, my Dad saw two great teams. One was the cup team that made it to the FA Cup Final in the consecutive years of ’55 and ’56. The other was the Mercer-Allison team that won several trophies in the late 60’s and early ’70’s. A team which boasted such great players as Bell, Young, Lee, and Summerbee.

Great though these players were, when pressed he always said that his favourite all time player was Bert Trautmann.

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His was a great story both on and off the field. A youngster in the Hitler youth, he went on to become a paratrooper, being sent to fight in Russia in World War Two. He was captured, but managed to escape. Being captured again, and expecting execution, he was, however, greeted by a typical British “Hello Fritz, fancy a cup of tea?”

Held here in Britain as a prisoner of war, he declined to return to his homeland when the war had finished, marrying a local girl. When Manchester City signed him to be their new goalkeeper, there was a lot of animosity directed towards him due to his German roots, the local Jewish community, as well as the general public, angry at his arrival.This was just four years after the war.

Especially at away games he drew a lot of vitriol, but slowly, gradually, he began to win people over with his great, courageous displays. Playing in London for the first time, he received a hostile reception, enduring shouts of ‘Kraut’ and ‘Nazi’. In this match he was particularly brilliant, and when the game ended he received a standing ovation from the crowd, while the players from both teams formed lines to applaud him from the pitch. That slow transformation of how he was perceived by the post-war British public spread.

His most famous moment, which seems to overshadow the rest of his extraordinary life and career, came in the 1956 FA Cup Final at Wembley, when he was injured rushing out to block Birmingham’s Peter Murphy, diving at his feet.

Bert Breaks

After receiving treatment he played on, making further crucial saves despite being dazed and in obvious pain. He helped his teammates win the match and thus lift the trophy. It was three days later that it became apparent that he had played the last seventeen minutes of the match with a broken neck. He had dislocated five vertebrae in his neck, the second being cracked in two. The third wedged against the second, preventing further damage which could have cost the German his life.

Bert after

My Dad was at that game, and often told me the story, of how, unknown to him the extent of his injury, Trautmann risked his life by again diving at the feet of an oncoming attacker. Broken neck and all.

That was probably the final cementing into public affection the figure who had provoked so much anger and hatred at the start of his footballing career in England. Just a few months after this match, Trautmann was to suffer the tragedy of losing his firstborn son in a car accident, aged just five years old.

His role in restoring English and German relations acknowledged, Trautmann was awarded the OBE in 2004.

I am too young to have ever seen him play, but I have been at Manchester City matches when Trautmann has attended and been announced onto the pitch either before the game or at half time, and have witnessed the obvious affection and high esteem in which the supporters, particularly the older supporters, held him. He once said that he was born in Germany, but that in his heart he is British.

A legendary figure both on and off the pitch, I have had his biography for some time but haven’t got around to reading it yet. I think now is the time.

Here is the footage of Trautmann’s finest hour-the 1956 FA Cup Final. See the supporters with their rosettes, rattles and Woodbines. A one-armed referee.

And a legendary performance.

Memories Are Made Of This

On Saturday I travelled down to Wembley Stadium in London, to watch my team Manchester City take on Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup final. Precision planning involving car and tube bore fruition and I arrived an hour and half before kick off.

Herded from Wembley Park tube station with a group of raucous, good natured fans, I emerged to see the famous silhouette rising above a sea of two different shades of blue before me. As I took it in, my mind was filled with the echoes of tales, often told, of club and blood and British tradition.

This new Wembley Stadium, opened in 2007, is built on the site of the previous one, and both are joined in the continuing role of creating history and more personal legends.

My Dad went to the 1956 ‘Trautmann’ final, so called after the City goalkeeper, the great Bert Trautmann,a former German POW, played out the final moments of the game with an unsuspected broken neck. A black and white image of my Dad, aged sixteen, stood before Tower Bridge with three of his mates, took form in my mind’s eye. A first, tangible connection to this day.

Dad middle top 1956

My Dad, center, back.

I recalled the tale of how he and his mates were reported missing that night, failing to return home in Manchester. After frantic searches they were eventually discovered asleep on an empty train, abandoned in a siding. Supporting City takes it out of you.

The memory of my uncle came next, unbidden, with the knowledge that he attended the 1969 final, often describing Neil Young’s winning goal to us impressionable and spellbound youngsters. Both were lifelong City fans, both are no longer here. They had experienced that pre-match mixture of excitement and fear. The FA Cup final- the dream of every football loving kid, tinged with the knowledge that just one momentary lapse can forever taint this much heralded and longed for day.

I thought of the final of ’81, when my team was beaten with the help of a replay and a wonder goal which is always re-shown and always tormenting. But it was a goal that mostly passed me by in those halcyon days of childhood, as I only began attending matches two years after this in 1983. That 1981 game would be City’s last FA Cup final appearance until we lifted the trophy thirty years later in 2011.

I walked up Wembley Way with the other participants of this great romance,  the followers of two northern clubs who had made the pilgrimage south to this iconic landmark.My brother was also somewhere among this great mass of people.

I was optimistic, holding strong to a faith in my team based both on what it had recently achieved and also on its future potential. But I was dangerously close to taking things for granted. I tried to temper this by reminding myself that although we were regarded as clear favourites, over 90 minutes anything can happen. The cup creates a level playing field.

I had on my lucky Nigel De Jong, Cup Final shirt of two years ago, when we brought to an end some lean and very challenging times for us long suffering blues.

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Supporters on the whole are a superstitious lot. Faithfully sticking to pre-match routines and rituals, certain words and sentences are made absolutely taboo in the inexplicable knowledge that fate can be tempted.

Always open to omen and portent, I was nevertheless optimistic and confident.

But as the countdown to the kick-off time began, above the huge arch of this great sporting cathedral, dark storm clouds were beginning to gather…….

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