Bernhard Trautmann: From Nazi to Hero – The Forgotten Story of the Football Legend

The world’s oldest football competition has been played since 1872 and this year marks 100 years since Wembley was the first venue for the final.

Many heroic stories have been created in the FA Cup since its inception, but few can measure up to Bernhard Trautmann’s.

He is the decorated Nazi who went from being hated in his new homeland to being loved even by opposing fans. His farewell match could not be completed due to the crowd running onto the pitch to celebrate him.

– I enlisted as a 17-year-old. I was a paratrooper and fought in Russia for three years. I was in Arnhem and the Ardennes, in France after D-Day. I was captured and came to England. It was only then that my education began, as a 22-year-old, he says in the book “Trautmann’s journey” written by Catrine Clay.

It is May 5, 1956. 100,000 spectators have squeezed into Wembley in London. Five million Britons watch the FA Cup final between Manchester City and Birmingham City on television. Before the game, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, who is customary to shake hands with the players.

After 1-1 at the break, Manchester City scored two quick goals to make it 3-1. But the end is dramatic. 17 minutes before the final whistle, goalkeeper Bernhard Trautmann lunges for the ball, but collides with Birmingham’s Peter Murphy. He gets Murphy’s knee in the neck.

Photo: TT

Trautmann becomes unconscious, but recovers and receives treatment for several minutes. Substitutions are not allowed at this time, even for severe damage. So Trautmann gets up and plays on.

Despite severe pain, he makes a couple of important saves and City hold on.

At the award ceremony, Prince Philip comments that Trautmann looks crooked in the neck, but he tries to straighten himself when Queen Elizabeth II hands out the medals.

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Three days later, it is established that Bernhard Trautmann has broken his neck. But he never hesitated to play on.

– After fighting partisans in the war, nothing could scare me anymore. Not even a broken neck. You can be a good goalkeeper, but to be a great goalkeeper you have to have courage and heart, he says.

Queen Elizabeth II presents the medal to Bernhard Trautmann after the victory in the FA Cup.

Photo: TT

Bernhard Trautmann grew up in Bremen in northern Germany. He was blond, blue-eyed, raised in the Hitler Youth and convinced of the superiority of the German people.

“Berni” survived three years on the Eastern Front in the Soviet Union. In France, he was buried alive under rioting masses for three days. When the Allies bombed the Dutch city of Kleve, he was one of 90 Germans who had survived in a regiment of 1,000. He was taken prisoner and transported to England.

After the war there were at most 400,000 German prisoners of war in Britain. They were divided into three groups. 80 percent were considered “neutral”, ten percent were seen as anti-Nazis, while the remaining ten percent were the hard-line group categorized as Nazis.

This included Trautmann who was a paratrooper and had been awarded an Iron Cross first class for his efforts for the Luftwaffe. He was considered a staunch Nazi.

The British plan was to restore the Germans. To teach them democracy, to explain what happened in the concentration camps and eventually to send them back to Germany.

In 1948, Trautmann, as one of the last prisoners, was given the chance to leave the prison camp to return. But Trautmann decided to stay. Slowly he had acclimatized in the country. “Berni” had become “Bert” in England and he had met the Englishwoman Marion with whom he would later have children.

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At the same time, the athletic German’s goalkeeping career had taken off. When a POW team met a local team in Ashton-in-Makerfield, the goalkeeper was injured. Then Bert had to jump in between the posts.

Word of his skill spread and he was given a trial for St Helens Town. A semi-professional team that increased the attendance average from 1,000 to 5,000 during Trautmann’s time.

In 1949 he was signed to Manchester City. But it created an outcry among fans. Not so surprising as City traditionally had a large Jewish supporter base.

Bernhard Trautmann was a prisoner of war at Longview Camp in Huyton in Lancashire.

Photo: TT

Around 20,000 people protested outside the Maine Road arena and threatened a boycott. Many chanted “war criminals”. Trautmann also received death threats. He himself claimed that he had had no choice to fight for Germany.

An open letter in the Manchester Evening Chronicle, written by Rabbi Alexander Altmann, was instrumental in turning public opinion. Altmann, whose parents were both executed during the war, wrote that Trautmann should not be punished for what the Germans had done, and that everyone deserved a chance.

The deal was off and on the debut for Manchester City took place in Bolton in November 1949. Soon his popularity increased and already in January 1950 he was hailed by the fans of both teams when Fulham faced City in London.

Bert Trautmann became a symbol of reconciliation after the war.

– After a match I could sign autographs for more than an hour. My teammates asked why. They didn’t understand. As a prisoner of war, I had received so much understanding, so much forgiveness and friendship that I wanted to give something back and show them that there are good Germans, not just bad ones, he says in the book “Trautmann’s journey”.

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He made a total of 508 games for the club between 1949 and 1964.

However, the severe neck injury after the cup final meant that he had to relearn most aspects of goalkeeping. He spent three weeks in hospital and was convalescing for six months. The doctors’ verdict was that he would not be able to play football again.

Bert Trautmann greets Queen Elizabeth II in 2004, a few days after receiving the OBE.

Photo: Fritz Reiss/AP

But he had a long and brilliant career. Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton claimed that Trautmann was the best goalkeeper he had faced. “Never look him in the eye because he’ll read your mind,” Charlton said.

In Trautmann’s farewell match, between assembled teams from Manchester United and Manchester City, there were 47,000 spectators. The match was never completed. Before the final whistle, the pitch was invaded by supporters who wanted to pay tribute to the German.

– I didn’t think anyone would come. But they came, from Bolton, Preston, London, Manchester. And I needed the money for my family, I had never earned more than £35 a week, says Trautmann.

Bernhard Trautmann lived his last years in Spain.

Photo: TT

On an international level became he an isolated case and was never allowed to play an international match for either Germany or England. After his career, he was manager of clubs in England and West Germany before receiving international assignments from the West German Football Association. He became the national team captain for countries without a football structure, such as Myanmar, Tanzania, Pakistan and Liberia.

Bert Trautmann died in 2013 at the age of 89. In the last years he lived near Valencia in Spain. In 2018, the German-English film “The keeper” came out about his life.

Sources: The biography “Trautmann’s journey”, The Guardian

Fact.FA Cup Final 2023

When: Saturday, June 3, 4 p.m.

Was: Wembley, London.

Which: Manchester City – Manchester United. It is the first time the two Manchester teams meet in an FA Cup final.

FA-cuptits: United have twelve, City have six.

2023-06-01 15:50:59
#German #prisoner #war #Cup #hero #broken #neck

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