Bert Trautmann, 89, POW who became British soccer star


Soccer player Bert Trautmann played for Manchester from 1949 To 1964. He was a World War II prisoner of war and settled in England after the war was over. He died on July 19. (Rex Features via AP Images)
July 20, 2013

Bert Trautmann, a former German prisoner of war who as Manchester City’s goalkeeper helped the team win Britain’s Football Association Challenge Cup, playing with a broken neck for the last 17 minutes of the 1956 final, died July 19 in La Llosa, Spain. He was 89.

The German soccer federation announced his death. Mr. Trautmann had suffered two heart attacks earlier this year, the federation said.

Born in Bremen, Germany, Mr. Trautmann served in the Luftwaffe as a paratrooper during World War II and was awarded the Iron Cross. He was captured in Russia, escaped and was captured again by the British as the war drew to a close.

He was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in England, where his skillful play in soccer games drew attention. Mr. Trautmann made England his adopted country and declined to be repatriated.

He married a British woman and worked on a farm and, later, with a bomb-disposal unit in Liverpool. He joined the Manchester City club in 1949, despite the protests of many British citizens.


Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann makes a save in a November 1952 game. (Associated Press)

During one of his first games in London, which still bore the signs of heavy damage from Germany’s air raids, Mr. Trautmann overcame a hostile reception and played so well that at the end of the match, players formed a line on either side of a stadium tunnel and applauded him. An opposing crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Mr. Trautmann was the first German to play in a Wembley FA Cup final when Manchester City finished runner-up to Newcastle in 1955. One year later, he became the star of City’s championship.

City had taken a 3-1 lead against Birmingham, and with 17 minutes to go, Mr. Trautmann dived at the feet of onrushing forward Peter Murphy. The Birmingham player’s knee collided with the goalkeeper’s neck, and Mr. Trautmann was knocked out.

At the time, no substitutions were allowed, and Mr. Trautmann, although unsteady, returned to his place between the posts, according to an account on City’s Web site.

He made two more outstanding saves; then he collided with teammate Dave Ewing and had to be revived again before he could play on. While receiving his championship medal, Mr. Trautmann complained of a “stiff neck.”

Three days later, an X-ray revealed a broken neck.

Mr. Trautmann was honored as the Football Writers’ player of the year, the first foreigner to earn the honor.

“I played over 500 league games for City, but that moment is still the one people refer to,” Mr. Trautmann said. “People will still say, ‘Ah, you’re the fellow who broke his neck playing at Wembley.’ ”

After the final, Mr. Trautmann needed time to recover from his injury and from a personal tragedy: His 5-year-old son was struck and killed by a car. He continued to play until 1964, when he was 40.

Manchester City called Mr. Trautmann one of the club’s “greatest goalkeepers of all time and a true club legend.”

“There are fewer better examples of the power of football to build bridges than Bert Trautmann,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter said.

In 2004, Mr. Trautmann was appointed an honorary Officer of the British Empire for his efforts to improve Anglo-German relations. He was also awarded the highest German decoration and once said his heart “beats for both countries.”

After retiring, Mr. Trautmann helped in the development of soccer in Africa and worked on improving Anglo-German ties.

— Associated Press

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