Bert Trautmann, a German World War II paratrooper and former prisoner of war who became Manchester City’s goalkeeper and helped the team win the 1956 FA Cup despite playing with a broken neck for the last 17 minutes of the final, died on Friday. He was 89.
The German Football Federation said Trautmann died in Spain, where he lived. Trautmann’s wife Marlies told the federation he died on Friday morning.
Trautmann made 545 appearances for City between 1949 and 1964 and was revered for his performance in the team’s 1956 FA Cup final win over Birmingham City.
In 2004, he was appointed an honorary Officer of the British Empire for his efforts to improve Anglo-German relations. He was also awarded the highest German decoration and once said his heart “beats for both countries.”
Bremen-born Trautmann served as a paratrooper during World War II, earning an Iron Cross.
“Growing up in Hitler’s Germany, you had no mind of your own,” he told Louise Taylor of the Observer in 2010. “You didn’t think of the enemy as people at first. Then, when you began taking prisoners, you heard them cry for their mother and father... When you met the enemy, he became a real person.”
He was captured in Russia, escaped and was captured again by the British.
He was sent to a prisoner of war camp in Ashton-in-Makerfield where Trautmann caught attention during soccer matches played there.
Although a capable outfield player, he was forced into goal after picking up an injury during a match. Tall and athletic, Trautmann was a natural.
He would later claim his training as a paratrooper made it easy for him to perform acrobatic dives because he knew how to fall to the ground without injuring himself, according to a biography posted on the Manchester City’s Web site.
When the war ended, he declined the offer of repatriation and after playing for a local non-league side, Trautmann joined Manchester City in 1949.
He was the first German to play in a Wembley FA Cup final when City finished runners-up to Newcastle in 1955, but a year later he became the hero of City’s triumph.
City had taken a 3-1 lead against Birmingham and with 17 minutes to go Trautmann dived at the feet of Peter Murphy. The Birmingham forward’s knee collided with the City goalkeeper’s neck and Trautmann was knocked out.
At the time, no substitutions were allowed and Trautmann, although unsteady, returned to his place between the posts, according to an account on City’s Web site.
Trautmann produced two more outstanding saves and then collided with his own defender, Dave Ewing, and had to be revived again before he could continue. While receiving his medal, Trautmann complained of a “stiff neck.”
It was only three days later that an X-ray revealed a broken neck.
“I played over 500 league games for City, but that moment is still the one people refer to so it can be a little frustrating at times because no matter how well I played during that time, people will still say, ‘Ah, you’re the fellow who broke his neck playing at Wembley,’” Trautmann once said.