Bert Trautmann: six things to learn about heroic German PoW

Jul 19, 2013

The German goalie famously helped Man City win the FA Cup in 1956. But that's just the half of it

Allsport Hulton/Archive

BERT TRAUTMANN, the German goalkeeper who came to Britain as a prisoner of war and became a hero when he played for Manchester City in the 1956 FA Cup final with a broken neck, has died at the age of 89 at his home in Spain.
He sustained his injury diving at the feet of Birmingham striker Peter Murphy in the second half of the match, but went on to make several crucial saves as City won the Cup. His Wembley heroics have gone down in English football folklore and his name has become synonymous with the FA Cup.
However, there was plenty more to Trautmann than his bravery on the pitch. Here are some things you might not know about him.
His real name was not Bert: Born in 1923, Bernhard Carl Trautmann grew up in Bremen during the inter-war years and excelled as an athlete, playing football, handball and the German sport völkerball, similar to dodgeball. He became known as Bert when he played football as a prisoner of war in England because his English team-mates could not pronounce Bernd, the short version of Bernhard.
He fought for the Nazis in WWII: He became a paratrooper in the Luftwaffe in 1941 and served in occupied Poland. Later he saw action on the Eastern Front at Dnepropetrovsk in Ukraine. He was one of only 300 members of his 1,000-strong unit to make it out alive and was lucky to survive after being trapped under rubble for two days following a bombing raid. Taken prisoner later in  the war, he was sent to a camp near Northwich in Cheshire.
He was not popular at first: In 1948 he refused the offer of repatriation to Germany and settled down in the Northwest where he established himself as a goalkeeper for Liverpool County Combination side St Helens Town. Towards the end of 1949 he was spotted by Manchester City who signed him up, and he went on to make more than 500 appearance for them. But there was uproar when City first signed a former member of the Luftwaffe. Thousands took to the streets to protest, letters were written to local papers and season tickets were torn up.
He was good: There was more to Trautmann's career than just his Wembley exploits. Russian legend Lev Yashin rated him as his equal and Bob Wilson and Gordon Banks both cited him as an influence. His performances also won over the sceptical City fans and even those of opposition teams, and he was a legend even before the 1956 Cup final. His strength was shot-stopping and he had a fine record of saving penalties. His handball background gave him good throwing skills that helped his distribution.
He coached Burma: After retiring in 1964 he had a spell as a manager at Stockport and back in Germany with minor teams. He then joined the German Football Association which sent him to coach in countries with no formal football structure. He ended up coaching the Burmese national team for two years. Later in the 70s and 80s he coached in Tanzania, Liberia, Pakistan and Yemen. In 1988 he retired and moved to Spain.
He had an OBE and supported England: Trautmann had a key role in overcoming prejudice towards Germans after WWII. Having been awarded the Iron Cross during the war he was given an OBE in 2004 thanks to his work with The Bert Trautmann Foundation, a charity which aimed to forge Anglo-German friendship through football. In 2010 he told The Sun: "I watch all City's games on TV, they're still my club. I love England too and still shout for them — even if they're playing Germany."

Sign up for our daily newsletter