A capacity Etihad Stadium crowd will be salivating with eager anticipation when Manchester City kick-off their 2013/14 campaign against Newcastle United on Monday night.
Expectations are justifiably high, but before the 45,000 or so home fans begin their appreciation of the likes of new boys, Fernandinho, Jovetic, Navas and Negredo they will reflect on the contribution of one of City’s first ever foreign imports – the truly unique and now sadly departed Bert Trautmann.
The term ‘legend’ and the sentiments accorded to an individual of such immense stature, is wholly appropriate when applied to this remarkable man, the like of which will never again adorn the football world.
When City’s supporters – and no doubt the travelling Geordies who appreciate all that’s best about the game – deliver a minute of rapturous applause in memory of Bert, they will be saluting a giant of a man who lived a life like no other.
The ex-Nazi paratrooper and prisoner of war, famously played on with a broken neck during City’s 3-1 FA Cup Final win over Birmingham City in 1956. He was the only man ever be awarded the Iron Cross, the OBE and be acclaimed as Footballer of the Year – not forgetting both winners and losers medals in FA Cup Finals – ironically losing out to The Toon 3-1 in 1955.
Born in Bremen in 1923 in a Germany rife with political unrest in the aftermath of the First World War, Bert crammed a heck of a lot into his 89 years before succumbing to a heart attack at his home in Valencia, Spain last month.
As an unwitting youngster he was a member of the Hitler Youth movement before becoming an elite paratrooper in the Luftwaffe. He fought on the unforgiving Eastern Front against Stalin’s Soviet forces, where thousands upon thousands of his comrades died at the hands of the Red Army and the perishing cold of the Russian winter
Unaware of the atrocities being perpetrated by Hitler’s SS death squads he was horrified when he came across a massacre of Jews – children, women and elderly civilians – in October 1941. After the war he confessed to feeling almost suicidal at the time, such were his feelings of revulsion at the grisly discovery and the unspeakable atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis.
Bert’s fortunes improved when, after unexpected but very welcome leave back in Bremen, he was posted to the Western Front. Captured in Spring 1945, Bert was a POW and held captive in England.
Having known nothing other than the Nazi indoctrination, Bert freely admitted that his education began in the UK, where he was able to learn the values of democracy and banish the evils of Nazism.
Reflecting on how he was treated as a POW and his subsequent life in England, Bert said: “The way I was treated with fairness, kindness and tolerance was unbelievable.”
Paying tribute to the British people, he said: “You are a special type of people – a special island. Even though I was born in Germany I consider myself more English than German.”
Even so, Bert still had to overcome anti-German sentiments among some quarters in his adopted homeland, having passed up the opportunity to be repatriated to post-war Germany in 1947.
20,000 people attended a demonstration against the signing of what some saw as one of Hitler’s troops.
Upon joining City in October 1949, Bert was greeted by club captain Eric Westwood who shook hands in the dressing room and simply told him: “There’s no war here Bert, you’re one of us.” And so began a playing career spanning 15 years at Maine Road with the highlight being the 1956 cup victory and being voted Footballer of the Year.
After the 73rd minute clash with Birmingham forward Peter Murphy, Bert bravely continued for the last 17 minutes in pain and describing it as ‘playing in a kind of fog…’
Looking back, Bert knew how lucky he’d been. He was literally within a fraction of an inch of paralysis, even death, such was the severity of his injury. It wasn’t until four days after the Cup win that Bert’s condition was finally revealed.
He spent three weeks in a plaster cast from his head to his waist, with doctors warning he might never play again. It was during his recovery Bert and his wife, Margaret, suffered the tragedy of losing their five-year old son, John, who was killed after being hit by a car.
Bert and Margaret had two more sons – Mark and Stephen – and they will be present at the Etihad to initiate the minute’s applause for their father.
In 2004 Bert was honoured by the Queen when he received the OBE for his services in promoting positive Anglo-German relations through football, via his charitable foundation.
In 2010 Bert was quoted as saying that City was still his club and he always watched the Premier League matches on Spanish TV. His love for England never diminished, even to the point of cheering The Three Lions whenever they played Germany.
The overwhelming majority of Monday night’s crowd will never have seen Bert play first hand. Like myself, they’ll have been limited to the black & white footage reels and the accompanying ‘Pathe News’ upper class commentary of Bert’s heroics.
But, as befitting a true legend, Bert did not have to be seen to be believed. He is, and forever will be, a famous and fondly remembered figure in Manchester City’s history.
Calls for one of the stands at the Etihad to be named after him would appear highly appropriate and very popular with City supporters. At the very least, there is a healthy lobby seeking to have a statue erected in honour of the great man.
I for one would endorse such sentiments. It’s hard to believe that anyone will ever have given more to his team, than a man who, unwittingly risked his life for the cause, as well as making a remarkable 545 first team appearances.
This article is dedicated to another member of the Manchester City ‘family’ who is displaying remarkable courage in the face of massive adversity – Paul Glennon. Paul desperately wants to be around to see City win the Premier League come next May – it could well be his last chance. Please follow Paul on twitter @paulandailz and boost the spirits of a true blue.