The Best German Goalkeeper Never to Play for The Manschaft.

The story of war is that of nations, but the stories of war are those of individuals

Noted journalist and author Ulrich Hesse-Lichetenberger quoted the aforementioned lines to delineate how the breakout of a macabre war failed to douse the spirit amongst certain aspiring German footballers and how their lives changed forever, for good as well as for bad.

A player of Helmut Schön’s stature, who later led Germany to the final of World Cup 1966, was deemed unfit to take part in the war(in the beginning that is to say) owing to his chronic knee injury and had it relatively less difficult than a few of his colleagues during wartime.

Adolf Urban, a member of the Breslau Elf and of the all-conquering Schalke team of the ‘30s and ‘40s, whose last contribution to football was participation in the final of Tschammerpokal in 1942 where Schalke lost 0-2 against 1860 Munich, never left Stalingrad alive.

However, there was one footballer who tasted both bitter and sweet pills of the war. A footballer who became the first ever German to play in an FA Cup final, the first foreign winner of FWA Footballer Of The Year Award(1956), a footballer whom legendary Lev Yashin described with the following words

There have only been two world-class goalkeepers. One was Lev Yashin, the other was the German boy who played in Manchester

His name was Bernhard Carl Trautmann.

A Bremen native, Trautmann started his short football career with Tura Bremen. Owing to the great depression, his family shifted in the neighborhood of the working class locality of Gröpelingen. Trautmann, a sports enthusiast, enlisted to the cause of YMCA and later just like other kids of his age group, Trautmann enrolled himself for an erstwhile facet of Hitler Youth, the Jungvolk.

When war broke out, Trautmann served to its cause and at first served as a motor mechanic. Later on he joined the Luftwaffe as an intern radio-operator first and then as a paratrooper. He was soon drafted out to the eastern front, first in Poland and later in Ukraine. There his unit of thousand men had the primary objective of disrupting the supply of ration for the Soviet Army.

The unit initially executed the objective to an extent. But an early onset of winter and the opposition’s counter-offensive measures left this unit in disarray. And only three hundred men of the actual unit were left. Trautmann’s contributions were acknowledged and he was rewarded with five medals including an Iron Cross. He was also promoted to the post of a corporal.

Soon he was promoted to a sergeant and relocated to the western front to negate the advances of the Allied forces. He survived the bitter house-to-house gun fighting that took place in the battle of Arnhem in The Netherlands. During this period, Trautmann also endured the absolute deprivation for three days under the rubble of a school building, with only his right arm in a movable condition and an entire regiment of dead compatriots as companions.

The rescue party saved him from that open crematoria and gratuitously threw him into another inferno, to the battle of Bulge through the densely forested Ardennes mountain range, to give shape to operation “Watch on the Rhine” so as to safe-guard the receding western front.

Surviving a slew of inenubilable circumstances he landed in the hands of the British army and was detained in Belgium. Later on he was transferred to England in a prisoner-of-war camp.

Football was one of the recreational activities in the camp and Trautmann was a regular outfield player. Once during a game against a local side Haydock Park, Trautmann injured himself and swapped position with the goalie, Gunther Luhr. That was indeed the beginning of the most unexpected twist in the tale of the quondam Nazi.

Alongside working on farms, bomb disposal squads or building roads to an airport, Trautmann started taking his love for his hobby of goalkeeping seriously and was soon found representing amateur club St.Helen’s Town. In a year his ability with the gloves started earning him accolades and rumor has it that a crowd of 9000 assembled in the final of a local competition, Mahon Cup, to witness Bert’s (Anglicized version of Bernd) goalkeeping.

And an unheralded development took place the very next season. Several first division sides were reportedly interested in acquiring his services. Manchester City were the first club to come calling with a contract offer in hand and the German could not say no to that. That was the beginning of a bond that lasted for over 15 years (1949-1964) where Trautmann played 545 professional games for the club, winning the FA Cup once.

The start to his first division career was not a partie de plaisir. There were two reasons behind that – 1) He was replacing Frank Swift, a club legend who retired the previous season. So, expectations were high and 2) His Luftwaffe background created furor amongst the fans. A certain section of the fans, including the Jewish groups, were vocal against his signature-selection-participation and threatened to boycott games. They jeered him from the terraces, put up demonstrations and flooded the club mailbox with hate mails targeting Trautmann.

Under such circumstances it would have been difficult for any footballer to keep his composure and with Trautmann it was no different. He displayed an inspired performance in his debut game against Bolton. But his concentration soon gave way to the protestations and Manchester City conceded seven goals against Derby County in a league game.

In January, 1950, Manchester City travelled to London to play Fulham. The city bore the result of the Luftwaffe’s many attacks and the fans from both sides greeted him with hatred. Manchester City were not playing particularly well at that time and were staring down the barrel for a humiliation. But the fighter in Trautmann refused any further personal capitulation.

The Flying German
The day when protests turned into admiration.

His side lost the game 1-0, but he won the hearts back by pulling off save after save to keep a respectable losing margin. While leaving the pitch at the end of the game, Trautmann received a standing ovation. After the game he attended a long autograph session with the fans. When asked why he entertained the fans despite the ill-feelings, he remarked that he received so much forgiveness and friendship therefore he wanted to give something back and prove that there are good Germans. Trautmann then went onto play 245 of the next 250 Manchester City games at a stretch.

Within two seasons Manchester City embraced a tactical approach, Revie Plan, an inspired version of the tactics with which Hungary mutilated England 6-3 at Wembley. Using that system, Manchester City reserves remained unbeaten for 26 games and soon coach Les McDowall introduced the senior team to this tactical variation.

The system would revolve around Manchester City’s forward Don Revie who would play in a deep-lying center-forward’s role, dropping deep to receive the ball to attract opposition defenders and use the space left by them to channel the attack. Trautmann literally had an important hand to play in this strategy. Trautmann closely followed the Hungarian goalie Gyula Grosics’s role in this strategy for Hungary. Instead of carrying out long goal-kicks, his job was to pick out a pass for the center-half or wing-half. His past experience with Handball helped him direct long throws towards his wing-halves Ken Barnes or John McTavish, thus putting the Revie Plan in motion.

Manchester City’s tactical éclat brought about an improvement in the club’s stature. In 1955, the Citizens played in the final of the FA Cup against Newastle United and Trautmann became the first German player to play in an FA Cup final. The Citizens lost 3-1. The next year they finished fourth in the league. Because of his immense contribution, Trautmann won the FWA Footballer of the year, the first goalkeeper to win it. This boosted his confidence and inspired Man City to win the FA Cup, defeating Birmingham City 3-1.

Trautmann was nonpareil in his position in the team. The Luftwaffe’s training played an important role in the German’s fitness, reflexes and acrobatics. His experience in Handball helped him contribute to the team’s attacking movements through long throws. He was particularly good at shot-stopping. So much so that legendary Sir Matt Busby once remarked in a pre-match conference, when asked about the man who saved 60% of the penalty-kicks in his life,

Don’t stop to think where you’re going to hit it with Trautmann. Hit it first and think afterwards. If you look up and work it out he will read your thoughts and stop it.

Death before Defeat
The save that went into the history book

Trautmann’s finest hour came in the FA Cup final of 1956. After Man City were up by 3 goals to 1, the Citizens were stretched by Birmingham City. 73 minutes on the clock, Trautmann made a one-on-one stop by diving into approaching Peter Murphy’s legs. Trautmann won the ball but a collision of his neck with Murphy’s right leg knocked him unconscious on the field. Since no more substitutes were permitted, Trautmann had to continue the remaining agonizing minutes in a feat of dizziness. He managed to pull out a slew of saves in the dying moments to keep it 3-1 to help his side win the FA Cup.

Broken Bones

Broken Bones

A few days later, Trautmann went to Professor David Lloyd Griffiths, an orthopedic surgeon at Manchester’s Royal Infirmary, to find a remedy for the growing discomfort in his neck. The X-ray revealed that five vertebrae were dislocated in his neck, the second of which was broken and if the third one had not wedged against it, he could have died on the field or even later. Thus, the save became the greatest ever save in the FA Cup, a save which could have cost Trautmann his life.

Despite his growing reputation worldwide (Schalke urged to sign him but Man City did not budge), Trautmann never represented Germany. In a meeting held with the legendary Sepp Herberger, he was told that the coach was primarily looking for a player playing in the German league only. Moreover, the political implications surrounding Trautmann’s involvement with the Nazis was another reason why Herberger chose not to select him for the Mannschaft.

His testimonial match too was a fitting farewell gift to his ceremonious service to the club. He captained a combined Manchester side which included Manchester United legends Bobby Charlton and Denis Law against an English national team which included the likes of Tom Finney and Stanley Mathews.

Post retirement, he engaged himself with DFB’s project of aiding countries without national football structures. In his first assignment as a coach, he helped Burma qualify for the Olympics in 1972 and also helped them win the President’s Cup. Before bidding farewell to all forms of football in 1988 Trautmann trotted to and from places like Tanzania, Yemen, Pakistan, Liberia for various developmental work.

Bert Trautmann

Bert Trautmann

Sir, you have earned our respect. May your Legend hold strong against the ravages of time.

~Written by Arnav Bose for ‘The Hard Tackle’, editing and additions by Late Night Kickoff.

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Of Gary & Ryan

The two United stalwarts had a discussion about Ryan Giggs, his age, his game, retirement and more. Here’s a copy of what transpired between the two.
Gary Neville: Do you have days at the age of 39 when you think: ‘This is fast’?

Ryan Giggs: If I’m playing on the left against Rafael…

Gary Neville [laughing]: You tuck in?

Ryan Giggs [laughing]: I just tuck in! Tom Cleverley and Carra (Michael Carrick) in the centre of midfield are saying: ‘What are you doing here?’ So I just tuck in next to them!

Gary Neville: There are some days when you have to manage yourself in those sessions…

Ryan Giggs: Yeah. You have to. Training sessions are full on. I’m playing left-wing probably against Antonio (Valencia) and Rafael. When are you going to get that in a Premier League game? The intensity of those two? So it just steps you up a notch. You know what I’m like, if someone takes the ball off me. It’s: ‘You can’t do that!’

Gary Neville [laughing]: The eyes go!

Ryan Giggs: Yeah, the eyes go! It just fuels you. Then you just get stuck into tackles and it steps you up. It’s that natural progression.

Gary Neville: I remember clearly when I knew I had to quit. That game at West Brom on New Year’s Day, 2011, when I felt I was a liability to the team at the age of 35. Where’s your West Brom moment? What’s going to make you stop?

Ryan Giggs: When I stop affecting games, really, when I stop contributing. I’ve got to be careful. You speak about your West Brom moment but I’ve had a few of them…

Gary Neville: Really?

Ryan Giggs: This year, against Cluj, against Tottenham at home. I came off at half-time against Tottenham. The team were awful but I was awful. Cluj at home this year, I was shocking. Once I get into a rhythm, and it’s usually around Christmas time, when it starts getting a bit colder and the games are coming and probably a lot of players are going backwards, I come into a peak then so that’s a massive plus for me. And the manager knows when to use me.

Gary Neville: At those points, when everything gets on top of you and you think: ‘This could be it.’ Do you have those moments?

Ryan Giggs: Yeah. But it doesn’t last for long. I was down after those two games.

Gary Neville: How do you get yourself up? Do you listen to the media, people saying: ‘Oh, he should retire now’?

Ryan Giggs: No. It doesn’t have any influence on me whatsoever. It used to, because you’re young.

Gary Neville: At what point did that change?

Ryan Giggs: Well, a watershed season for me in that respect was around 2002 when I was getting a bit of stick. Only for a few games, I think it was slightly exaggerated. But probably then, I was 28, 29. It affected you but I was sort of surprised how well I came through it. It was like: ‘Oh, it’s not that bad, is it? It doesn’t really matter.’

Gary Neville: So earlier in the season, you were having those doubts – not to the point that you did what I did and decided to quit – but what are you thinking?

Ryan Giggs: My thinking is: ‘What you going to do about it?’

Gary Neville: And what do you do?

Ryan Giggs: It’s just stupid things, like saying: ‘Right, I’m not going to have butter on my toast. I’m going to make sure I go to bed an hour earlier. I’m going to make sure I go home after every training session for a couple of weeks and rest my legs. I’m going to do extra running.’ There’s no alcohol, certainly. My weight doesn’t really fluctuate but I make sure I don’t eat late at night. It’s about making sure I’m right physically because mentally I’m okay.

Gary Neville: Did the 1,000th competitive game on Tuesday night mean anything?

Ryan Giggs: I don’t want to sound dismissive, that it didn’t matter [laughs] but, no, it didn’t. When I retire I’ll look back at it and I’m really proud of getting to 1,000 but it all built up to the Norwich game and I just wanted it over with. That doesn’t really matter to me, that stuff.

Gary Neville: You’ve done your coaching badges and are now doing your pro licence, so where do you see yourself in three years? Coaching?

Ryan Giggs: I think so. That’s why I’m doing the badges, to prepare myself as best I can. As a footballer, you don’t look too far ahead. So I’m going to have to change my mind-set when I finish. I’ll have to say to myself: ‘Where do you want to be in two or three years’ time?’ You have ideal scenarios, where you might be going on the coaching staff at United to learn how everything works at a football club and then take a manager’s job.

Gary Neville: Man United is obviously the dream job. I don’t want to pin that on you but can there be another job for Ryan Giggs other than managing this club?

Ryan Giggs: Yeah, I think there can. We’ve talked about it on the pro licence course, that ideally you want to get that bit of experience, two or three years on the pitch coaching, organising. That’s your apprenticeship. Now that might not happen. I might finish and get offered a decent manager’s job.

Gary Neville: Would you take it?

Ryan Giggs: Well, you don’t know until it’s offered and see what your alternatives are. Ideally, you would want your apprenticeship, like you do as a footballer before you get into the first team.

Gary Neville: Why do you think more players haven’t done what you do and played into their late 30s?

Ryan Giggs: I don’t know. I think there’s definitely a lot of things in my favour. If I was playing at another club, would I still be playing now? I honestly don’t know. There’s so much going for me in that I’ve got great facilities, it’s brilliant going into Carrington, training every day, I haven’t had to move house, I’ve got the same manager, I’m at Man United, you’ve got good players around you, I don’t play every week. There are so many things that go in my favour. I quickly got my head round not playing every week – and some players don’t. I knew it was for the greater good really because I knew it would benefit me playing every 10 days.

Gary Neville: You’ve achieved almost everything. In the next 30, 40 years what would achievement be for you? What would give you satisfaction, completion?

Ryan Giggs: I don’t think there is anything. There’s never been completion in my football career because I’ve always been striving for that next thing. You listen to people who have finished and nothing replaces playing, but I’m still excited about not having to put my body through what I’ve put it through. And not feeling the disappointment that I feel. I mean, I’ve got mates who are gutted (after Tuesday’s defeat by Real Madrid) but they don’t feel what I feel. They’re gutted, they’re mad Man United fans. But I’m gutted and it affects your life and it affects your mood for the next two or three days. I’m not going to miss that. I’m not going to miss putting my body through it, the sacrifices you make. My lad comes home every day and wants to play football and sometimes I’ve got to say: ‘No, I can’t. I’ve got to relax.’ I can’t wait for all that sort of stuff to end. But, professionally, I think it’s got to be something within football, something that’s going to satisfy you. But what that will be, I really don’t know.

ryan n gary