Trautmann in the 1956 FA cup final, just moments from sustaining that famous injury
Alex McLeish supposedly had a tough job winning over Aston Villa fans, after moving from arch rivals Birmingham this summer. He had it easy, and if he wants proof, he should look no further than Bernhard Carl Trautmann. Upon arriving at Manchester City in 1949, the club where he would enter folklore, a 20,000-strong protest took place in opposition of his signing, as well as season ticket holders threatening to boycott games, despite it being his first professional club. Why, you ask?
The fact was, less than five years previously, Trautmann was the enemy, not just to Manchester City, but to everybody in Britain, even in Europe. In 1941, he had joined the Luftwaffe, serving as a paratrooper. In fact, he earned five medals for his actions on the Eastern Front, reached the rank of Sergeant, and was captured on three occasions, escaping from the Russian and French Resistance, but choosing not to attempt escape from the British.
During his time as prisoner, he was classified as a Nazi, and interrogated, before being moved to a Prisoner-of-War camp until 1948. It was here, during a football match, that he played in goal for the first time, through injury, and continued to from then on.
Trautmann declined an offer of repatriation once the POW camps closed, opting to stay in England, where he worked in bomb disposal in Liverpool, alongside playing for amateur club St. Helens Town. During his time there, his reputation grew, until Manchester City decided to sign him.
Fan protest from City fans started to quell after his first match, once his talent started to show. Away fans continued to hurl abuse, however, and some disappointing performances understandably followed, including conceding seven goals against Derby County. Upon his first visit to London, heavy press attention accompanied the chants of "Kraut" and "Nazi". City were expected to lose heavily, but a string of saves prevented this.
Once the final whistle sounded, despite losing 1-0, Trautmann received a standing ovation, and was applauded by both sets of players. Maybe he didn't achieve the same glorious feats as others on this list, but he had achieved something that went far beyond football: suddenly, his nationality, and his past, didn't matter.
This alone should be enough to be remembered: to my knowledge, he was the first German to overcome the aftermath of the war in a volatile and very public environment. His career would contain another, maybe even more incredible story though.
City would be relegated that same season, but would bounce straight back up the following year, and would find an upturn in fortunes during the mid 1950's, with Trautmann at the heart of the revival. They would reach two successive FA cup finals, in 1955 and '56, and it is the 1956 cup final where Bert Trautmann would create one of the greatest stories in football.
He had been named Footballer of the Year that season, the first goalkeeper to win the award. City were leading 3-1 by the 75th minute, and Birmingham were attacking ferociously. Trautmann had produced a number of fine saves, and dived at the feet of Peter Murphy, as you can actually see above. He would be knocked out moments after that picture is taken from this collision, and since no substitutes were allowed, he had to carry on. He produced more stunning saves in the final minutes of the match.
As he went to collect his winner's medal, people started to comment on the noticeable crooked state of his neck, with even Prince Phillip mentioning it to him. He attended the post-match banquet, and tried to sleep off the pain, despite the fact that he couldn't move his head. A day later, a hospital told him that it would go away on its own.
Three days later, x-rays at Manchester Royal Infirmary would reveal that he had dislocated five vertebrae in his neck, cracking the second into two. Only the position of the dislocations had saved him from being paralysed, or even losing his life.
It was there that the legend was born. Bert Trautmann, the ex-nazi who had won over the nation with perseverance and dignity in a post-war environment, had just produced a match winning performance in the FA cup final, despite playing with a broken neck for a full twenty minutes.
Top that, McLeish.