When goalkeeper Bert Trautmann signed for Manchester City in 1949, 20,000 people demonstrated against the signing of a former German paratrooper. When Trautmann would retire in 1964 after 545 appearances for the Blues, his name was sung along with Bill Meredith, Erik Brook, Roy Paul, Roy Clarke and Bobby Johnstone as one of the greatest legends in club history prior to the glorious Mercer/Allison era.
Trautmann had been a World War II POW who had previously escaped the French Resistance, the Russians and Americans but could not escape the British. Trautmann elected to stay in England at the end of the war. He had ended his time as a prisoner in Cheshire, and after a year with St Helens Town was signed by City.
The first trip to London for Trautmann as a City player was met with derision and anger from both the Fulham crowd and the press. “Kraut” and “Nazi” were shouted at Trautmann yet he pulled off a succession of remarkable saves to ensure a 1-0 City victory. This victory wasn’t enough to stop City from being relegated at the end the season however.
After bouncing right back to the First Division and signing Don Revie, the Blues pushed up the table eventually finishing 7th and reaching the FA Cup Final at the end of the 1954-55 season. During this period Les McDowell, the City manager, employed the “Revie plan,” which placed the player who had been a forward for Hull City in the center of pitch and utilized Trautmann’s long throwing and kicking ability to reach Revie in the center of the pitch or Ken Barnes out wide to stimulate quick counter attacks.
In the 1955 FA Cup Final Trautmann made a bunch of big saves but still the Blues lost to Newcastle 3-1, the last major domestic trophy won by the Magpies. A year later City would finish fourth in the league and win the FA Cup. City defeated Birmingham City 3-1 in the final, with Trautmann playing at least the last 15 minutes with a broken neck.
Heroism like this is often lost in today’s football where big money and ego trump pride in the shirt. On that day Trautmann, already a City stalwart, became a legend of the English game.
Unfortunately Trautmann missed the first four months of the next season due to the broken neck and the Blues crashed to 18th in the table. With the steady keeper back the following season, City finished 5th but Trautmann conceded the most goals of his career. When he retired from City in 1964, upwards of 60,000 fans attended his testimonial match.
For more on Trautmann including video of the Bert Trautmann story, visit our obituary post earlier today on World Soccer Talk.