The Incredible Bert

Posted by Simon Curtis

Infrequent are the occasions when the reputation of an individual transcends the petty enmities and squabbles of professional sport, the deep cultural divides constructed over decades and the thousands of minds made up before they have even engaged first gear. That one man managed to overcome all of these, while knocking down the impenetrable walls of hatred built up over years of war and suffering, is quite unique, but then Bert Trautmann, legendary Manchester City keeper, who died Friday, was a figure unique not only to post-war British sport, but to its battle-scarred culture, too.

- Former Man City keeper Trautmann dies

Such grace and humility, such selflessness in a man, especially at a time like the period in post-war Britain that Trautmann found himself dropped into, is a bit like finding the crystal unicorn itself. In the shabby world of greed that modern football reflects today, it is truly unthinkable that such a figure could survive, let alone prevail.

For Trautmann bestrode post-war British sport like a blond colossus, receiving brickbats and (gradually) applause in almost equal measure. Catcalls and whistles were his staple diet in a battered, war-shredded Britain where mention of anything German was likely to bring people out in some kind of collective rash. Through his calm humility and faultless accomplishments on the football field, Trautmann grew into a giant of British football, a man as famous for being a prisoner of war who won over the favours of a skeptical nation, as a fantastic footballer, who completed a Cup Final with a broken neck.

That fateful clash of bodies in the Manchester City-Birmingham final of 1956 typified the indefatigable spirit of Trautmann, for whom nothing was too much, not even the completion of a sporting task with an injury which would have floored the rest of us in an instant. Pictures of the event show a bleary-eyed goalkeeper joining the post-match celebrations on the Wembley turf, holding his neck and grimacing. In a world where footballers spend more time on the floor for no reason than on their feet for good reason, Trautmann can easily be seen as some kind of alien life form.

Sadly, the last few days have proved that he was only too human after all. Just like the rest of us, at the end of the day the flesh is weak and we move on from this mortal coil. In Bert Trautmann's case, he moves on with the admiration and the gratitude of legions of football fans and generations of City fans brought up on the story of how a man from the enemy side of the barbed wire, imprisoned in war camps, came to woo the nation his compatriots fought against with his exemplary attitude to sport, to fair play and to human decency.

May you rest in peace, Bert, when your journey to the giant penalty area in the sky is complete. We will forever remember you as one of the greatest to wear the City shirt in this grand club's history. Your type will never be seen again, we realise that, but thankfully we had the chance to admire you once, at least.


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