The OzSoccer Articles

Bert, not just a muppet

Admittedly it's not very Australian, however when Peter Young sent me this little story I felt it really encompassed much about what is good (and bad) about football. I emphasise I am not trying to sell a book, I have nothing to do with this. I am merely intrigued by this story and perhaps you will get something from it too.

TITLE           Trautmann -The Biography-
AUTHOR          Alan Rowlands
PUBLISHER       The Breedon Books Publishing Company Limited,
                44, Friar Gate,
                Derby DE1 1DA
ISBN No         0 907969 71 2

Looking at the book and its dustjacket, there's no mistaking which Manchester club Bert Trautmann kept goal for, both being what can only be described as a rather lurid blue. The book is hardback and comprises 256 pages and 41 black & white photographs, the dustjacket itself having the only colour plates.

The author has a clear passion for his subject as he makes clear in his eloquent 'Introduction' where he reveals something of the magnetism that Trautmann exuded, so much in fact that he could draw 47,951 fans (later revealed to have been 60,000) to an emotional Maine Road, the largest ever for a testimonial game.

This book is not a standard footballer's biography (though there is one in here), more the story of Bernhard Carl Trautmann's quite extraordinary life, a life touched by exhilarating success and deep tragedy. The book starts with his early life in the north German town of Bremen. The chapters covering this era are almost worthy of a history text and give a quite vivid description of life in those troubled times, from the hyperinflation of the 1920s through to Trautmann's involvement with the Hitler Youth and his sometimes almost comic-book escapades in the Wehrmacht. By 1945 he had been court martialled for sabotage (he was a paratrooper), captured by the Russians, escaped; captured by the Free French, escaped; captured by the Americans, escaped; and finally captured by the British who he says greeted him with the immortal line "Hello Fritz, fancy a cup of tea" (honest!). Along the way he fought at Arnhem, won an Iron Cross first class and was buried in rubble in a cellar for 3 days. All this is enough to fill anyone's life and the football is still to come.

This starts at POW Camp 50 at Ashton in Makerfield; amazingly Trautmann played left half and only ever went in goal when unable to play in the outfield due to injury! Fortunately, his obvious talent between the sticks got him the position full-time. He came to prominence in local games and eventually arrived at Maine Road via St. Helens Town after what can only be described as some very underhanded dealings. The uproar his signing caused is recounted in detail; season ticket holders threatened a boycott and various groups in Manchester and around the country bombarded the club with letters denouncing the act. Not only did Trautmann have to overcome all this anti-German hatred, he was also the successor to the great Frank Swift whom many thought the greatest goalkeeper of all time (in the UK anyway) and as such irreplaceable by anyone, let alone an ex German soldier.

We get a good insight into the playing staff and the way the game was played at Maine Road including the birth of The Revie Plan. There are priceless glimpses of the life of a footballer from a different age, the aloof manager and the appalling pettiness of the club when it came to expenses and wages etc. On the field we are taken through many games and astounding performances including his first apprehensive appearance in the capital at Fulham where he ended up being applauded off at the end by the opposition players! The highlights include the 1955 Cup Final when Jimmy Meadows was stretchered off leaving the Blues with 10 men and of course the 1956 final where Trautmann broke his neck, perhaps the most famous ever?

Success turned to tragedy a few weeks later when his son was knocked down and killed by a car. This led inexorably to the break up of his marriage which is described in detail. Amidst all this turmoil, Trautmann won back his place in the side when most thought him finished, going on to make many more breathtaking displays. The description of his testimonial almost brings a lump to the throat but this is replaced by disgust at the way the club treated him afterwards. His post Maine Road life took him as manager to Stockport County and around the world as a German FA overseas coach, finally retiring to the Rhine Valley in the 1980s

His exploits on the field were, and still are legendary. Probably the best tribute to him comes in a final chapter of quotes from his footballing contemporaries: Jackie Milburn, Don Revie, Lev Yashin, Tom Finney, Tommy Docherty and Sir Stanley Matthews who all name him either as The Greatest or one of the greatest goalkeepers ever. Bobby Charlton even names him as making the best save he had ever witnessed (from Charlton's boot).

This is a good book, well written and thoroughly researched, the author has interviewed many of the major players in the drama as well as the man himself who cooperated throughout. On the down side, I can't help feeling that Rowlands' admiration for the man allows his objectivity to slip at certain points. There are many episodes where Trautmann's behaviour was bizarre and his motives unclear; the author recognises these but seems to tacitly accept Trautmann's often inadequate explanations. This tends to give the book the feeling of an autobiography as some of the more awkward questions are left unasked. Surely part of the biographer's task is to judge his subject, however unpalatable that may be? A further slight criticism would be the author's inclination to use an odd vocabulary and the rather strange 'arty' quotes used as subtitles which look out of place in a sporting biography. Lastly, his German sentences are more often than not comically misspelt, but I guess that won't worry most of you!

If you saw Trautmann play or are even remotely interested in his larger than life life-story then this book is a must.