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Inside FutbolInside Futbol

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Specials

The War Generation – Bert Trautmann




The Second World War interrupted and cut short the lives of millions of people around the world. The shockwaves of the conflict impacted on all parts of life and football was no exception, with hundreds of professionals being called up to fight and some making the ultimate sacrifice.

This series of articles looks at how the war affected the lives of footballers from all sides of the conflict:



Bernhard Trautmann is arguably the most famous World War Two veteran to play the beautiful game in England.

As a former German paratrooper his arrival at Manchester City in 1949 as their new goalkeeper proved controversial with fans.

He was born in Bremen in 1923, during a time of great political unrest in Germany, following the country’s defeat in The Great War.

Trautmann, who was affectionately known as "Bert" by his family, was an active child and took part in a variety of sports, including football, handball and dodgeball. He also won a host of local athletics titles.

 

In 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany and put the country on a war footing. Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and two years later Trautmann, who was working as an apprentice motor mechanic, enlisted in the German air force, the Luftwaffe.

Trautmann became a paratrooper and saw combat on both the Eastern and Western fronts during the war. During his time in the Ukraine, fighting the Red Army, he was awarded five medals, including the Iron Cross.

After the allied invasion at Normandy in 1944, Trautmann found himself repeatedly captured by the allies. He was caught by two American soldiers but escaped only to jump a fence and land at the feet of a British soldier who greeted him with “Hello Fritz, fancy a cup of tea?”

Trautmann was sent to a prisoner of war camp first in Cheshire and then in Ashton, Lancashire, were he stayed until 1948.

He refused repatriation on release and decided to stay in England, where he combined farming with playing football for St Helens Town.

Manchester City’s scouts soon spotted Trautmann and were impressed by his skills between the sticks. His excellent diving ability, which he learned during his paratrooper training, and his brave technique of diving at an attacker’s feet, were recognised as his key strengths.

In 1949 the German signed for the club, but was something of a hate figure for some sections of the fans, who were enraged that a German was now playing for their team.

But Trautmann soon won his critics over with a string of sensational performances, the most memorable coming in the 1956 FA Cup final when City beat Birmingham City 3-1 to win the trophy.

During the match, Trautmann dived at the feet of Peter Murphy and broke his neck, but got up and played the rest of game, in obvious discomfort but not knowing the severity of the injury.

He made a full recovery and went on to record over 500 appearances for club, also winning the Footballer of the Year award in 1956 and being awarded an OBE by the Queen in 2004.

Bert Trautmann is symbolic of everything that is good about the game of football. The sport is a unifier of people; even those who are considered enemies can find common ground on the pitch. His enigmatic performances helped people overcome their prejudices and, in a small way, he helped heal the rifts between England and Germany following the war.



Published: Thursday, 14th Apr 2011