As far as iconic cult heroes go I don’t know of any held in such high regard for bravery and determination as Bernhard Carl ‘Bert’ Trautmann, football fan or not! However at the time when this story starts Bert certainly wouldn’t have been considered a hero, actually quite the opposite in fact.
Bert was a decorated German paratrooper who fought on the eastern front against the Russians earning 5 medals including and Iron Cross First Class. His efforts were then focused on the western front and the Allies. Eventually at the close of war the net tightened and he was captured by the Americans. He was convinced they were going to execute him so when he was marched outside of a barn with his arms raised he managed he quickly shake off the Americans only to run straight in to the hands of a friendly British soldier who greeted him with the words “Hello Fritz, fancy a cup of tea?”. At this stage he accepted his capture by the British. Bert had also been captured by both the Russians and French Resistance earlier in the war, he managed to escape on both of these occasions too. At the start of the war Bert’s regiment was 1000 strong and by the end of the war he was one of only ninety survivors.
Bert was interrogated at a transit camp in Essex and classed as a Black category prisoner. A black prisoner was politically motivated, loyal to and despite the outcome of the second world war still believed in National Socialism. He was transported to the Marbury Hall POW Camp in Cheshire with other ‘Black’ prisoners and also spent his final years as a prisoner at a camp in Ashton-in-Makerfield. During his time as a POW Bert loved to play in prisoner football matches, he also had a bit of a reputation of an outfield player with a fiery temper. It was during these matches playing in a variety of of positions that he would eventually realise his true position was as a goalkeeper. In 1948 when the opportunity came Bert refused repatriation to Germany and by this time he had also started to work on local farms which wasn’t permitted for ‘Black’ prisoners. Both his decision to work on the local farms and reluctance to return to Germany indicated that his ideologies / political loyalty had changed or shifted and he no longer believed in the firm nationalistic views he had on arrival in Britain.
Bert begun his life of freedom by working on a farm, then in a bomb disposal unit whist also playing football for his local team St Helens Town. Whilst playing for St Helens he was spotted by Manchester City who signed him to play for them. This wasn’t a popular choice at first, City fans protested about the controversial signing and season ticket holders threatened to boycott the matches. Bert soon proved himself and the initial prejudice from the fans was eventually turned in to admiration. He earned this respect from his teammates and fans not just because of his fine displays but because of his commitment to the game and his club. In 1955 Bert became the first German to play in a FA cup final in city’s 3-1 defeat to Newcastle Utd. The following year City reached the final again. Despite un-knowingly breaking his neck when he committed to diving at the feet of an opposition striker he continued the game in agonising pain to see City’s 3-1 victory over Birmingham through to the end. Upon collecting his winners medal Prince Philip commented on the ‘crooked’ state of his neck. They just don’t make footballers or goalkeepers like Bert Tautmann anymore, he was one of a kind! Many years after a successful football career in 2004 his lifetime of work was recognised and he was appointed an honorary OBE for his work in Anglo-German relations.
Bert Trautmann, 1923 – 2013