Posted: 4/20/2011
Title: STEPPES TO WEMBLEY

Blog:                                                                                                                         

           He started out in a small street in Bremen, North Germany, joined the Hitler Youth at 10, left school at 14, won medals in late 1936 on the track at Berlin's Olympic Stadium and volunteered for the German Luftwaffe at 17.  He went to the Russian Front for 3 years, joined the parachute regiment, saw untold slaughter and misery in the freezing steppes, and was once buried for 3 days under rubble in Ukraine.

           Captured by the British Army in 1945 their first phrase to him was 'Hello Fritz, fancy a cup of tea?   Berhard was taken to various prisoner of war camps in England, and started playing football again for the POW camp team, and then St. Helens Town, in a rugby league stronghold, and  finally in goal for Manchester City from 1949-1964, where he became a legend at Maine Road, and still is to this day at Eastlands..

         Now called 'Bert' Trautmann, he played on the losing then winning side in the F.A. Cup Finals at Wembley in 1955 and 1956, the second time with a broken neck for the last 17 minutes.

          As a youngster I remember seeing the POW's from Germany and Italy working in the fields with their dyed British army uniforms and a yellow diamond patch. There were over 400,000 prisoners in 1,500 camps in Britain at one time, many transferred from camps in Canada and USA. They were well treated, paid partly in English currency, partly in 'chits' to use in the camp stores, and part held back until their release. Food was plentiful, better than the local population could afford.

        We had rationing for almost 10 years after war's end, and we carried ration books. I think one egg a week and such thing as whale meat. We had endless lines at shops, but being in a holiday resort there was one corner shop that every Thursday had cakes for sale and long lines round the block. I waited for hours to be served.. Canadian and US soldiers and airmen enjoyed R&R and I used to go up to them along with my mates and say ' Any Gum Chum?' and hope for a stick of Wrigley's. Every Christmas at the local working man's club there was a children's party where we received chocolate and candy sent across the Atlantic, a once a year treat.

         It must have been 40 years ago at least that Bert's biography, 'Steppes to Wembley' was published. I think I paid 6 shillings for a copy. Late last year another one was published by Catrine Clay  TRAUTMANN'S JOURNEY: from Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend.Yellow Jersey Press; It's a fascinating story of one man's survival against odds, from a dictatorship and a war to the comfort of a professional footballers life in a democracy. It didn't start out well when 25,000 people protested outside Maine Road about them signing on a Nazi, and hate mail by the sack full.

        Aliens were not allowed to be full time pros at first so he had a job with a bomb disposal unit at Liverpool and Manchester Docks and later as a mechanic and other work. While playing in front of big crowds he was still only earning 12 a week full time during the season and 8 during the off season.

       He had personal tragedies, such as his 6 year old son John being run over while running across the road to an ice cream van, failed relationships and three marriages, a daughter out of wedlock and nightmare memories of the bitter cold, ice, snow and death on the Eastern Front.

       I saw him play twice in one week, in an F.A. Cup third round tie with Blackpool, abandoned due to fog in the second half, and a tie played again on the Wednesday afternoon which they won.

       Bert had a testimonial match at Maine Road on April 15, 1964 ;a Manchester XI with Bobby Charlton and Denis Law v an International XI with Stan Matthews and Tom Finney. His team won 5-4 but the match ended early when many of the 45,000 fans poured onto the pitch. Profits of over 6,000 gave Bert and his family a nice nest egg. The most he ever earned, at the end of his career, was 35 a week. He managed nearby Stockport County and won promotion, increasing attendances from 3,000 to 15,000 a match until he resigned.

         He reveived and O.B.E. Medal from the Queen of England, was Footballer of the Year, voted as one of the Best 100 Players in the 20th Century, many awards from the German Government and the D.F.B. for whom he later toured the world for 12 years. He coached in such places as Burma, Tanzania, Liberia, Pakistan, North Yemen, and loved it. He even took Burma to the 1972 Olympics where they lost 1-0 to USSR, 1-0 to Mexico but beat Sudan 2-0 in Passau.

         He now lives with his wife of 25 years in a small house on the Spanish coast, and founded the Anglo-German Friendship Society to promote sport and understanding among young people, but considers Manchester his home.

Back