Bravery is a seven letter word and no one in football has come close to showing as much bravery in a game as Bert Trautmann, who sadly passed away last week at the age of 89. The former Manchester City goalkeeper is best known for his heroic performance for the club during the 1956 FA Cup final against Birmingham City, in which he remarkably played the last 17 minutes of the game with a broken neck. The German born stopper broke several vertebrae in his neck when he collided with Birmingham’s Peter Murphy but carried on for the remainder of the game, unaware of the serious injury he had obtained. He went on to make several vital stops as City ran out 3-1 winners in front of a staggering 100,000 people at the old Wembley Stadium.
The 1956 final, which also included the likes of Welsh duo Roy Clarke and Roy Paul, Scottish striker Alex Govan and future England manager Don Revie, was a thrilling encounter even before the 73 minute of the match. Manchester City were first out of the blocks and put themselves into a 1-0 lead through young striker Joe Hayes. Birmingham hit back twelve minutes later through Noel Kinsey before a series of fine saves from Trautmann and his counterpart in the Birmingham goal; Gil Merrick kept the game square going into the interval. Fearing that the momentum was slipping from his side and the advantage was leaning more towards Birmingham, Manchester City’s Scottish manager Les McDowall rallied his troops (despite a heated exchange between Revie and defender Ken Barnes) and send them back out for the second half with a lot more conviction and determination. As Manchester City pressed for the next goal, space opened up at the back which Birmingham exploited to the maximum but Trautmann was up to the challenge and denied the Blues on several occasions. In fact it was his long punt up field that resulted in City’s third goal, with the scorer of the second goal Jack Dyson, setting up Bobby Johnstone to put the game almost out of reach with 26 minutes left to play.
With the third goal, Birmingham stepped up a gear and started to throw people forward, taking more risks than before. With 17 minutes remaining, Peter Murphy outpaced Dave Ewing to go through on goal. Trautmann got down well to block and eventually win the ball from Murphy but the striker’s right knee connected with the German stopper’s neck as he followed through. The collision knocked Trautmann out cold with the referee stopping the game immediately so that the goalkeeper could receive treatment. City feared the worse as Trautmann regained consciousness but looked drowsy and unsteady on his feet. Remarkably he wanted to play on, knowing that City were unable to replace him (No substitutes were permitted in English football until 1965) and would be forced to play Roy Little in goal instead. Captain Roy Paul argued that the risk was too great for Trautmann to continue but despite great pain, the dominant German remained on the field, playing out the last 17 minutes. Birmingham, sensing an opportunity to test the injured Trautmann tested him from all over with the stopper making two great saves, including a crunching challenge by his own defender Dave Ewing who was desperately trying to clear the ball from danger.
In the end, City were victorious and Trautmann was helped from the field by his teammates as the crowd sang out “For he is a jolly good fellow” in typical British politeness. Trautmann was the hero of the day and became a City legend. Trautmann received the Football Writers’ Association player of the year award in 1956; the first time it had been given to a foreigner in what was a remarkable career*. The story of his life, beyond that fateful game is just as remarkable and one that many would struggle to believe. Having been born in German, Trautmann first came to the UK during World War II as a prisoner of war, having fought with the German army as a paratrooper. After the war finished, he stayed in England and began his English football career with non-league St Helens Town. His performances earned him a transfer to Manchester City in 1949 but his signing was not received well by the fans that still had fresh memories of the war and did not appreciate a German joining the team. However Trautmann went on to play over 500 times for the club, with the turning point being the 1956 cup final. After retiring as a football, he managed several teams including Stockport County, German sides Preußen Munster and Opel Russelsheim before embarking on a football development role with the German FA that took him to Burma, Tanzania, Pakistan and Liberia. His work with the Trautmann Foundation which promoted exchange programmes between youth and amateur teams in England and Germany won him an OBE in 2004, something that he cherished dearly. After a year of illness, Trautmann finally passed away in his home near Valencia, Spain last Friday.
Former professionals like Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson paid tribute to a man who inspired many young players to become goalkeepers. Trautmann will be remembered for many things, including the 1956 cup final, where he showed that bravery has new meaning as he desperately tried to give the fans what they wanted – a Manchester City victory to remember. Trautmann is survived by his wife, Marlis and three children.
To read more about Trautmann, please read the wonderfully written Obituary by The Guardian Newspaper: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2013/jul/19/bert-trautmann
*Extracts of this piece have references to The Guardian article