When I started playing the game in the late 70s, the name of Bertie Trautmann was already inscribed in the pantheon of legendary keepers. It’s the sort of story I learned by heart. He passed away this week.
A German paratrooper in WWII, Trautmann was a POW in England who declined repatriation at the end of the war and instead took up residency in England. A former Hitler Youth member as well as a Nazi soldier, his entrée into life in Britain was difficult. He found work as a professional goalkeeper, eventually making his way to Manchester City where he would write himself into FA history.
In the 1956 FA Cup Final, City comfortably led against Birmingham 3-1 when a long pass came into Trautmann’s penalty area. He rushed out, and dove head first for the ball. The Birmingham forward’s knee connected with Trautmann’s neck. After treatment on the field, Trautmann didn’t come off because substitutes were not allowed. If he’d left, City would have had to play with 10 men and a makeshift goalkeeper. So he played on in great pain. Later, when he was X-rayed, it was discovered that he had a broken neck.
Thus the legend was born; ex-German soldier in WWII who embraced the English way of life and the freedom of western society. A professional keeper who showed incredible toughness and perhaps a little folly to win the FA Cup. Trautmann received the Football Writers’ Association player of the year award in 1956, the first time it had been given to a foreigner. An icon of courage in goal.
But the Bertie Trautmann story has another wrinkle – it is an example of our previous generation’s ability to go to war and then make peace, for better or worse. Despite the incredible swath of destruction and hundreds of thousands of fatalities, Europe was able to put the hatred and xenophobia of the war behind and move forward. Of course England never forgot the damage and took especial joy at beating Germany in the 1966 World Cup final, but Trautmann’s story shows that they could end a war and begin life anew. Do you think we in America could similarly accept an enemy soldier from Iraq, or Afghanistan?