The Nazi solider that British football fans took to their hearts

Ed Angeli

The story of Bert Trautmann is one of romance; the German should be regarded as one of the figureheads who bridged Anglo and German relations; an impossible task, yet manageable through one factor: football. 

A lot of you will have heard of the Manchester City goalkeeper, thanks to his heroics in the 1956 FA Cup Final; the goalie who played a fifth of the game with a fractured neck… yes, you read the right. But, there’s so much more to this man’s legacy; a legacy which carries a greater – yet morally shallow – message: everything that is wrong in today’s society: elitism.

Bert Trautmann was a Nazi, there’s no getting away from that; he was part of an elite squad of Luftwaffe paratroops. Although this was likely to be a mandatory conscription, this was the case for the majority of the Germans who found themselves under indoctrination of the Third Reich. How do we feel towards them? Hate? Anger? Sadness? We consider their actions, inconceivable.

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Trautmann was taken by a British patrol during the fall of the Reich, and became a prisoner of war in Lancashire. He introduced football into the camp, and was allowed to set up a team. Although initially playing as a centre-half, he turned into a goalkeeper due to suffering an injury; probably a silver-lining, the guy was colossal between the sticks.

Upon World War II ending, Trautmann was signed by Manchester City, to replace popular figure Frank Swift. Trautmann had two tasks – convince the doubters he was a better ‘keeper than Swift, and try and make Britons – City fans in particular – forget he fought as a Nazi.

Seems pretty tough. The death threats, boos and hate Bert received were, of course, expected. However, this all turned to celebration and glorifying the man upon a string of impressive performances. Britain had accepted this man, City fans had warmed to a figure who fought the allies, a man who acted for Adolf Hitler. This appreciation is shown through the Manchester City player being voted FWA Footballer of the Year, and being awarded an OBE.

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This is the shallowness, the elitism. Had this man been an average Joe, the run-of-the-mill prisoner of war, we think you can all use your imagination as to his fate. Instead, he becomes an FA Cup and footballing icon; he was accepted to the extent where he virtually adopted the country….

“My education only began the day I arrived in England. People were so kind and different, they didn’t see me as an enemy, they saw me as a human being. The British made me what I am”.

Call me a cynic, but we don’t think this love affair would be quite as romantic had he not been such an excellent goalkeeper. This level of acceptance, the hero and icon status would never be present without skill; the elitism.

Perhaps some will come rushing to the British defence, pointing straight to the culture of forgiveness, the unmovable characteristic of politeness almost embedded within every Briton. The historians amongst us will probably even speak of the exact moment Trautmann fell in ‘love with Britain’. It’s been reported that upon his capture, British soldiers said the following…

“Hello Fritz, would you like a cup of tea”.

We don’t think the expression: “you couldn’t write that”, has been more fitting. What a perfect way to further romanticise this story, bring out the famous British symbols, a good ol’ cup of tea. Choose to believe whichever story you want, however, I will remain firmly in the camp that this man was so accepted due to social elitism and snobbery that, once again, was blinding our vision of morals.

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