Bert Trautmann

bert trautmann card
Bert Trautmann is one of football‘s most important figures. He is one of the Football League’s 100 greatest legends; one of City’s most popular players, he received more votes than any other player in last season‘s Hall of Fame awards; and he is one of sport’s greatest ambassadors…
Bert’s upbringing and early life has to be considered in the context of the country he grew up in. Germany during the late twenties and thirties was at times a desperate place to be. The country was on its knees following the First World War and the early years of the depression. it was an environment in which the far right policies of Adolf Hitler flourished.
Young Bert, already a keen sports enthusiast, became a member of the Hitler Youth. lt wasn’t as a result of strong political beliefs; he was simply following the route expected. During the war he joined the Luftwaffe and served in Poland and Russia. As a paratrooper he was captured by the Russians and by the French Resistance, escaping on both occasions, and won five medals for bravery including the Iron Cross (first class).
Bert saw the full horrors of war. It was a nightmare existence, although Bert has always been quick to point out it was no worse than the situation millions of others were in: “There was tragedy and there was humour, as there was on every battle front.”
ln 1945 he was captured by the Americans but somehow managed to walk free. Then the British caught him and eventually he was taken to a camp in Ashton-ln-Makerfield. lt was at this camp that he began to play in goal for the first time during football matches.   
Bert was officially released from captivity in February 1948 but elected to stay in Britain as he saw no immediate prospects in Germany. Agricultural work and bomb disposal activities followed, and whenever possible he was playing football for St Helen’s Town.
As the 1949 season commenced several League clubs were showing interest in him. City signed Bert the following November but the move was not popular: For at least a month prior to the transfer newspapers were publishing letters from fans threatening to boycott the club. City had a large Jewish support and many believed the arrival of a former German paratrooper was one step too far. The national media soon caught on to the story and considerable negative publicity was generated. The Club could have pulled out at any point, however chairman Bob Smith answered critics by saying: “People can boycott or not as they like. I am very glad we have signed Trautmann. From what I have heard of him he is not a good goalkeeper, he is a superb goalkeeper. We had to get him in quickly or other teams would have taken him from under our noses.” It was a very brave decision.
The players, including captain Eric Westwood, a Normandy veteran, soon made Bert feel welcome. That all helped and then came Bert‘s debut on 19th November 1949 against Bolton. The Blues lost 3-0 but the ‘keeper had impressed. Bert remembers this period as one of transition: “lt was the first time I actually saw people protesting against me. But within a month, alot of those same people who’d been against me were having a go at anyone having a go at me! It changed very quickly. When I signed for City the ‘papers were full of discriminating headlines along the lines of ‘If City sign a Nazi, what next?’. And then people realised l’d been digging unexploded bombs in their country. They started to see me as a person with a mother and father. lt was all about the human touch.”
bert trautmann collyhurst boys club
Bert quickly established himself as a worthy successor to Frank Swift, and the former England captain went to great lengths to stress the quality of the German. City fans adopted Bert as one of their own and the ‘keeper became more important to the Blues after every game. One game in particular, away at Fulham in January 1950, saw Bert in outstanding form. This was a landmark game for the ‘keeper as at the start of the match his appearance had not been welcome. Bert: “l had been getting a good press in the north-west by this time, but Jack Friar, who was to become my father-in-law, pointed out that my first game in London would really test me because of the papers and publicity down there. He said I wasn’t just playing against Fulham, I was playing against London. I needed to make a good impression to get the national press on my side, and he told me he expected we could lose 7-0 or 8-0!”
As the players entered the Craven Cottage pitch shouts of ‘Kraut’ and ‘Nazi’ rang out. Bert received tremendous abuse and clearly a lesser player would have buckled under the pressure, but the ‘keeper seemed to see the venom as a challenge, and he started to appear more confident and more determined than he had in any earlier City match. In the end the Blues lost 1-0, but the score would have been much worse had it not been for Bert: “I was at the Thames End of the ground and was the last player to come off. Both teams stood at the dressing room entrance and applauded. A very emotional moment. In London, at that time, that was a testimony. I was lucky in later years to win the FA Cup; win the player of the year, and play for the Football League. But Fulham was my greatest moment.”
The attention the player was now receiving was all positive, and the German media were beginning to show interest. This led to attention from German League sides, including Schalke ’04 who made an offer of £1,000 for the player. City rejected the bid, but for a while Bert became keen to return to Germany.
In 1955 Bert became the first German to play in a FA Cup final: “Today, I don’t think the occasion means that much anymore in terms of the community spirit and everyone singing ‘Abide With Me’ and so on. When I went there I enjoyed the whole thing, the build up, the media attention, everything. I have never known nerves like I had that day. Even when we went back a year later, they were still bad.”
bert trautmann charles buchan
At Wembley in ’56 Bert helped City defeat Birmingham City. It was a memorable game but for many the significant aspect of the day concerns Bert. Bert: “lt was only years later I could piece together what happened that day. I have watched film of the match and you can see me coming out to intercept the ball. I was in the air and neither me nor Murphy, the Birmingham player, could stop. He tried to get over me, lifted his leg but caught me in the neck with his right leg. It was accidental. After that I was gone. Everything was grey until the final minute. I made a couple of saves but don’t remember anything until our centre-half, Dave Ewing, collided into me. The pain was intense and I really didn’t know what I had done. I was only aware of this pain, like an extreme toothache in my neck.
“On Sunday morning I was taken to hospital in London where they took X-rays and told me it was nothing. But I could not move my head. If I wanted to turn I had to move my whole body. I knew something was wrong.”
Incredibly Bert played his part in City‘s homecoming and he made an impromptu speech at the Town Hall while the crowd chanted his name. Bert: “I must have looked like death. We had the homecoming in a packed Albert Square and I had to speak. At the reception I remember Frank Swift slapping me with his enormous hands, it felt like I had been split right down the middle with an axe!”
Unhappy with his medical treatment, Bert arranged to see an expert the Tuesday after the final. That’s when the true extent of the injury became apparent. The doctor told Bert he had broken his neck.
A few weeks after the final further tragedy struck when Bert’s son was killed in a road accident. Life was tough, immediately after Wembley, but Bert tried to be positive: “There was nothing I could do but lie there and do a lot of thinking. And never did I think that I would not play football again.” Then in December, only seven months after the injury, he returned to League action. 
His return came on 15th December 1956, the first City League match filmed by the BBC at Maine Road. Bert: “It was very difficult coming back. I came back too quickly really. I would stand there with the forwards coming at me, saying ‘Come on, have a go. Let me show you I’m still good enough’. But it never happened like that. I reckoned I was finished. I told McDowaII so, but he told me I was wrong. I told him I had cost City at least six points but he said ‘think of the number of points you’ve saved us over the years’. I think it took me about 18 months before I was fit enough but, even today, my neck is still painful and restricted, especially in cold weather.”
 bert trautmann hall of fame award chairman John Wardle
Bert continued to play for City until 1964 when he was awarded a testimonial. The official crowd was approximately 48,000, however the actual attendance was at least 80,000 as Maine Road was packed to the rafters with thousands locked outside.
During the latter part of his time at City, Bert was viewed by the English authorities as the greatest goalkeeper playing in England, and in October 1960 he was chosen to captain the Football League’s representative side for a match with the Irish League. This was a major honour at the time and compensated, to some degree, for the fact that he had not been picked to play for his national side. The reason he never appeared has been debated many times over the years. The most likely reason is that the German authorities had simply chosen not to pick him because he was playing outside of his home nation. Had he joined Schalke in the early fifties he would probably have been a regular for his national side.
trautmann 2003
Despite this, it‘s fair to say Europe’s leading footballing figures recognised his greatness, especially in 1956 when he was awarded the Football Writers’ Player of the Year award. This is not only significant because Bert was the first overseas player to receive the award but also because it was awarded to him in the days leading up to the 1956 final. Therefore his heroics that day played no part in the decision.
After leaving the Blues spells at Stockport County and Wellington Town followed as player-manager, plus various spells working with the German FA. He had a significant role assisting Third World countries with the development of sport. Stints in Burma, Tanzania, Liberia, and Pakistan presented him with many obstacles but, as with his playing career, Bert was determined to succeed. These activities prove beyond doubt the importance of Bert to sport.
As a player he had achieved so much. As a man he achieved more. Born in a country at a time when prejudice and bigotry was the norm, Bert‘s experience in England helped him develop as a man. His role as a sporting ambassador has helped to break down barriers, remove prejudice, and encourage people from all walks of life and backgrounds to work and play together. His recent recognition and OBE are thoroughly deserved. Sometimes sportsmen receive awards simply because of success on the pitch, Bert’s accolade is not solely for activities on the pitch j (if it was he would have received it i over forty years ago), it is for the l example he has set throughout his i adult life. Bert is a true sporting legend and a great ambassador. He is also, arguably, the greatest European goalkeeper of all time.
bert trautmann AND FRANK SWIFT

ERIC TODD writing for THE GUARDIAN 27th March 1962


Manchester City’s debt to Trautmann

In a few weeks’ time unless the quite unexpected happens, Manchester City will concede their thousandth goal in League football since November 19, 1949. That figure is significant only because one wonders what it might have been if Trautmann had not been the last line of defence for most of that period.
For a variety of reasons, the most important of which of course was the broken neck he received in the FA Challenge Cup final in 1956. Trautmann has not been solely responsible for that formidable deficit although he is coming up to his 500th appearance in the League team alone. For consistency and dependability behind a defence that frequently has felt the lash of a German-Lancashire accent. Trautmann has had few superiors in his particular craft and if imagination be taxed to it’s limits to consider how many goals City otherwise might have conceded. It refuses even to contemplate which division the team might now be in if it had not been for this brilliant goalkeeper on whose massive frame 39 years rest but lightly. Retirement? City, let alone Trautmann, dare not even think about it.
Trautmann played in several games for the reserve side before he made his first appearance in City’s League side at Bolton midway through November 13 years ago. One will not forget his wretchedness when City were defeated nor the congratulations he received from the late Frank Swift at the end of the match. The irrepressible Swift rushed into the City dressing room shouting “You were great, Bert, great.” and a slap on the back nearly caused Trautmann more damage than did his accident at Wembley a few years later. Because of his nationality life was never easy nor pleasant for Trautmann during his early days at Moss Side, but from the time he made his first appearance to the end of the 1955/56 season he was absent only five times out of 278 possible League appearances. He saved five penalties, and failed to save 24, which is not a bad average, including two at Roker Park. He saved Stelling’s first attempt, but the referee ordered the kick to be retaken. Whereupon Trautmann was so upset he booted the ball into the crowd. When it came back Stelling tried again and Trautmann’s save was even more spectacular than the first. “And,” said Trautmann later, “if he had taken it again, I would have died rather than be beaten.” And he meant it.
bert trautmann
Time was when Trautmann became as much an ambassador for Manchester City as his illustrious predecessor had been for England, although further comparison between the two caused endless argument, Swift was a showman; Trautmann was not, except when he disagreed with the referee, and that habit happily is rather less frequent or obvious than it used to be. Swift on his own admission, was not always happy with the ball coming in from the wings or from corners; Trautmann on the contrary was vulnerable against the low, straight shot. But Swift spent much of his rich life with City playing behind such as Barkas, Westwood and Sproston; Trautmann has had a variety, often eccentric, of backs and half-backs in front of him. And Swift had no Ewing to distract him although it was not unknown for L J McDowall, City’s manager, to put through his own goal. It has not always been a sinecure keeping goal for City.
trautmann, meadows finney MRI 56 to 57
In spite of all the many prominent players who have come to City and left again, Trautmann’s supreme popularity has been challenged seriously only once, by law. No longer then was Trautmann the No. 1 target for autograPh hunters. He was just another footballer and for a while he could leave the football grounds of England almost unhindered although he gave few indications on the field that his skill was on the decline. When he did , those critics who never had forgotten his background went for him and hit him hard. “Trautmann on the way out.” “Trautmann is finished.” “City must look for a new goalkeeper,” were among the choicest bits of encouragement he received. And he started receiving anonymous letters again. But, as he did in 1949, he refused to be upset, openly at any rate, and today when he takes up his position at Chelsea or Cardiff, London, or Leicester, Blackpool, or Birmingham the crowds, however reluctantly, acknowledge him still as one of the finest goalkeepers in the land. The old headlines are having to be reset: “Trautmann saves City” and “City debt to Trautmann.” It is a wonder the type hasn’t worn out.
1955 to 56 trautmann player of the year award in museum


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