Thursday, 25 July 2013

Death of a boyhood hero

Like many youngsters in the 1950s, I was passionate about sport. We played football in the street in winter, and then swapped the heavy leather ball for the cricket bat and ball in the summer. Being a true Mancunian I was an ardent Manchester City supporter (the majority of Manchester United supporters have never set foot in Manchester!) and to play football for your favourite team was every boy's dream. In the 50s players would stay with one team for life, and many of the Manchester City team were local boys made good. But not all- my boyhood hero was Bert Trautmann, the German goalkeeper, who, like my Cockney father, had moved to Lancashire during the war, but for entirely different reasons.

Trautmann joined the Luftwaffe early in the Second World War, serving as a paratrooper. He fought at the Eastern Front for three years, earning five medals including an Iron Cross. Later in the war he was sent to the Western Front, where he was captured by the British as the war drew to a close. He was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in Lancashire and after the war refused an offer of repatriation. Instead he settled in Lancashire, combining farm work with playing as goalkeeper for local football team St Helens Town. When his side played Manchester City in a friendly in 1949, Trautmann was so impressive that the first division side immediately signed him and wasted no time in putting him into their first team.

The club's decision to sign a former Axis paratrooper sparked protests, with 20,000 people attending a demonstration. Over time he gained acceptance through his performances in the City goal, playing all but five of the club's next 250 matches.

Trautmann entered football folklore in 1956 with his performance in the FA Cup Final against Birmingham City. It was not for any outstanding save on a day when City were generally in control, but for yet another example of his remarkable courage. With 15 minutes of the match remaining Trautmann suffered a serious injury after diving at the feet of Birmingham City's Peter Murphy. Despite his injury he continued to play, making crucial saves to preserve his team's 3­1 lead. His neck was noticeably crooked as he coollected his winners' medal; three days later an X-ray revealed it to be broken!

Bert Trautmann was a heroic figure in every sense, and an inspiration to me, in that no matter what a person's background or circumstances, respect can be earned with self-belief and determination.

Bert Trautmann died on July 19th 2013 aged 89.

1 comment:

  1. I'm old enough to remember seeing it on a Pathe Newsreel in a South African "bioscope" (cinema for the uninitiated)


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