Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Video: Bert Trautmann

Bert Trautmann's story has always fascinated me.

From Iron Cross winning paratrooper to Manchester City's FA cup winning hero.

A man who defied the odds in the war (only 90 of his 1000 strong regiment survived by the time of his capture by British troops) and survived a broken neck at Wembley in that successful 1956 final.

As it has entered footballing legend the story has been reduced to the rather simple tale of a "good" German triumphing against the odds to reach the top of the English game.

It's much more than that.

Trautmann, now living in Spain and in his late 80s, was a magnanimous and determined character, capable of inspiring those around him and working hard to overcome the initial outrage that greeted his move to City in the late 1940s.

He could also be difficult, rash and given to unleashing a wild temper.

Contradictory? Perhaps. But Bert Trautmann was the product of quite extraordinary times.

Part of a generation who saw their childhood stolen by Hitler's totalitarian Germany, he volunteered for the German war effort before being conscripted.

As a paratrooper he was suddenly forced to confront death, among both his own comrades and the nameless young British and Commonwealth troops he faced. It was a stark lesson in the futility of war for a young man who thought he was simply doing the right thing for his country.

As a high profile German in Britain he had to face the obvious anti-German feeling of many.

More than that, as a high profile German in Manchester, he had to face the anger of the city's Jewish community when signed for City.

Trautmann worked hard to overcome this prejudice. Where he could have been a figurehead for continued hate and resentment, he actually became a figurehead for improved relations between two countries.

Respected and admired in Britain he was feted in Germany for his role in the difficult process rebuilding that country's reputation.

Eleven years after he was captured as part of National Socialism's vanquished army, 1956 should have been Trautmann's greatest year as he was voted player of the year and won the FA Cup.

But in the course of that triumphant final he broke his neck. That he played on seems a story too outrageous for Roy of the Rovers and cemented his place in the hearts of British football supporters.

Just months later Trautmann was again coming face to face with tragedy when his young son was knocked down and killed.

Again he overcome professional and personal adversity to reclaim his place in the Manchester City first team.

In 1960 he became the first foreign player to captain an English League representative side - the closest he would come to international football.

By 1964 his playing career was coming to an end. 60,000 fans turned out for his testimonial game as a combined City and United side took on an international select. Just 15 years earlier 20,000 people had protested at his signing.

It was a remarkable end to a remarkable playing career.

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