On 5th April 2019, the British-German film ‘The Keeper,’ a biopic about the German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, will be released in British cinemas. The film will be released this Friday in Germany. Shortly before Christmas in 2012, in one of the legendary Manchester City goalkeeper’s last interviews before his death, Trautmann spoke to DFB.de editor Steffen Lüdeke. Read the interview here.
Some conditions can be difficult and things can hurt a little from time to time. However, the head is still wide awake. Bernhard “Bert” Trautmann may be 89 years old but he is still young mentally. Following the Second World War, the goalkeeper helped to contribute to reconciliatory efforts between Germans and British more than any other sportsman and most German citizens. Trautmann made 545 appearances in goal for Manchester City between 1949 and 1964, becoming only the second foreign recipient of the footballer of the year award in 1956. Overall, 1956 was ‘his year’ as Trautmann helped Manchester City reach the FA Cup final. During this match, Trautmann suffered a broken neck but courageously carried on to help secure the victory with some outstanding saves. Since this match at Wembley, Trautmann has received immortal status from football fans in Manchester but his career and entire life is far too extraordinary for it to be reduced to just one match of football.
When Trautmann retired from playing football in 1964, the posts in Manchester City’s Maine Road stadium were demolished and replaced, as no-one else was allowed to stand between the hallowed posts that Trautmann played between. He now lives in Valencia and still follows football. Trautmann now reflects on his extraordinary life.
DFB.de: Mr Trautmann, what does Christmas mean to you?
Bert Trautmann: In German culture, Christmas is very important but especially to me as I haven’t been able to celebrate as many Christmases at home with family as a result of my career as a footballer. In times of contemplation, you appreciate your family even more than normal. For many years, the Christmas period was very difficult for me and I have suffered sadness and melancholy at this time of year. I have various memories of Christmas time, good and bad as well as sad and happy.
DFB.de: You grew up in Bremen. Do you have childhood memories of Christmas?
Trautmann: It was a difficult time back then as seven million people were unemployed and no-one had any money. No-one was thinking about any precious gifts back then. I remember placing my nose by the window pane as a four or five year-old child and always wanting to have a construction kit which was a predecessor to Lego. However, my family couldn’t afford this. Nevertheless, I always enjoyed Christmas with family, the candles and the lights. It was lovely even if we didn’t have much at that time.
DFB.de: You fought for five years in the Second World War. What was Christmas Eve like on the battlefield? Or were you allowed to spend Christmas at home?
Trautmann: No, no-one was able to think about that. I only went home once during the five years I spent as a soldier in the war. I was one of the youngest members of the squadron, I wasn’t married, I didn’t have many cards to play regarding reasons to go home. Christmas during the war is particularly hard. You become melancholic, think about home and crave to see your family much more during this period.
DFB.de: What did you experience during celebrations in the English prisoner of war camps?
Trautmann: We were able to celebrate in the prisoner of war camps unlike in Germany. We didn’t sing any Christmas songs; it was only a group of male prisoners together. We sat together and spoke to each other about our experience as well as drinking mulled wine. It was a reflective and somewhat thankful and wonderful period of contemplation. The English treated us very fairly. For example, we had the same rations as the English population outside of the prisoner of war camp. I cannot stress enough how generous they were, they even allowed us to play football.
DFB.de: How did this come about?
Trautmann: When the prisoner of war camp closed, that was in the German zone. However, there was an English zone outside the camp, there was a place where the soldiers, officials and employees could play football. We saw them playing and asked whether we could join in. The Scottish major took matters into his own hands and managed to organise matches for us against amateur English teams from the local area just a couple of months later. These matches were always well attended with six or seven thousand people watching the games. For everyone, football was a distraction from post-war life.
DFB.de: Were the spectactors hostile in the matches between German prisoners of war and the English?
Trautmann: Overall, no there wasn’t any bad reception. As us prisoners of war were driven through the towns after arriving in England, I was concerned at how people may have reached to seeing us. There were mostly women who looked at us as if to say: “You poor devils. You have mothers at home who miss you, and wives and children. We are sorry for you.” I experienced this fair treatment from Britain on multiple occasions. It was also them who told me after my release as a prisoner of war that I could stay in England.
DFB.de: You received the generous opportunity from England to return home shortly before Christmas in 1948. Trautmann: That’s very true, but it wasn’t just about that. After spending three years as a prionser of war, I accepted an offer from the English government to work as a farm worker to help restor the farmland to useable conditions after the war. The government allowed us to take holiday to travel home. I was then able to meet representatives from my football team St Helens Town before I travelled to Germany.
DFB.de: What happened after that?
Trautmann: There were ten club members there when I arrived including directors and players. They said to me that they probably knew that things were not going well for people in Germany and my family. However, they were able to gather a selection of items for me and my family. There was a large box full of food including butter, sugar, ham and everything else possible. They also gave a donation of 150 pounds which was an incredible amount of time at the time. I was incredibly grateful for their generosity and could barely believe what the English people were able to do for me and my family.
DFB.de: Then you travelled home for the first time since the war…
Trautmann: For the first since 1943 so yes the first time in five years.
DFB.de: How was it the experience of going home?
Trautmann: Difficult. You became a foreigner in the time that you were not there. That might sound a bit strange but it really was the case. I was no longer the person I was before the war started and family members had also changed too due to war experiences. However, of course I embraced my mother with open arms when I saw her for the first time on my return. We both cried. It was different when I met my father and brother again as you can barely recognise them after such a long time away. This is obviously more difficult.
DFB.de: How long were you back in Germany for?
Trautmann: Three weeks. It was a lovely period of time. I can still remember the match I played in during these three weeks for my first club TuRa Bremen. I played for them shortly before the outbreak of war.
DFB.de: How difficult was it for you to leave Germany once again? Did your parents not try to convince you to stay?
Trautmann: No, I explained to my parents that I had made an agreement with the British government and they understood. I don’t my mother fully understood why I chose to stay in England after the war.
DFB.de: Your parents travelled to England in 1955 and 1956 and saw you in action in the FA Cup final. After this visit, did you parents understand why you stayed in England.
Trautmann: Yes, the Manchester Evening News newspaper invited them both to come. That was a huge surprise for me. I would’ve never been able to have afforded for them to come to England to stay. My parents were also allowed to stay for as long as they wanted which was an incredible gesture. After staying for a couple of weeks, they were able to understand much more clearly why I liked England so much.
DFB.de: At this point they were several goalkeepers already playing for Manchester City. Is it true that you only signed a contract with them because you needed to go to the toilet and wanted to get rid of your guests?
Trautmann: Yes that’s true (laughs). Looking back, I also think it’s quite a curious story. I was lying in bed suffering from the flu. There was a ring at the door and it was some Manchester City representatives. We were negotiating for around four hours and they simply wouldn’t leave. As I desperately needed to go to toilet, I simply signed the contract then to end the waiting.
DFB.de: There wasn’t an option for you to go to the toilet and then to continue the negotiations? Trautmann: There probably was but my English wasn’t so good at that time. I simply signed the contract to end the discussions. You cannot imagine negotiations like this taking place nowadays as back then all the clubs were still amateur clubs. I simply wanted to play at a higher standard of football but I certainly hadn’t planned to be playing for the Manchester City first team after just five matches.
DFB.de: You managed to do exactly that before becoming a club legend in the 1956 FA Cup final against Birmingham City when you managed to play on with a broken neck. Your head was placed into a plastic cast after the match and you were unable to move for several weeks whilst being drip-fed food. How did you overcome this period?
Trautmann: Personally, it wasn’t as bad as you might think it was. I fought in the war and have seen or experienced much worse things than that. After experiencing that, you appreciate more radical things which have happened in history. I watched the film “Stalingrad” with my wife where 300,000 soldiers fought but only 6,000 returned home. My wife lost her brother as a result of the Battle of Stalingrad. When you experience so many harrowing things at a young age, you don’t complain about how tough life is just because you have to be drip-fed food for five months.
DFB.de: You survived the war and recovered from a broken neck. Have you been on the fortunate side of luck in your life or do you not accept fate seeing as you fought in the war?
Trautmann: If you’re able to talk about such a topic, then I was also fortunate in the war. I often asked myself whether or not I would be killed in battle. I don’t know. If we were attacked, I would also shoot but not point towards the target. Generally, you have the feeling during war of ‘him or me.’ War is very abstract until you have to fire a shot yourself. It also only truly becomes concrete and real when you see the first prisoners of war and the enemy are just humans, people like you and me who haven’t done anything wrong in their lives. Regarding my destiny, I have been able to find freedom. I have managed to withstand several critical situations and can say I am fortunate to still be alive. There are some experiences I have been forced to withstand which I easily could’ve done without. However, I am grateful to have met some very nice and interesting people with have helped me to become a free person.
DFB.de: In Germany, no football takes place over the Christmas period. In England, this isn’t the case with matches traditionally taking place on Boxing Day. What is the appeal of these matches?
Trautmann: I have to admit that I have no idea where this tradition comes from. It is simply normal in England for matches to take place on bank holidays. In the past, there were a lot more compared with today. For example, there used to be matches on Easter Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Monday. That never really influenced me that much, I always liked to play matches back-to-back, maybe because I didn’t feel the physical burdens of consecutive matches as much as a goalkeeper.
DFB.de: What are your memories of Christmas in England?
Trautmann: The English celebrate Christmas in a very similar way to the Germans but the biggest difference is that gifts are given out on Christmas Day. I’ve always found that very nice. On Christmas Eve, my children would leave a stocking at the end of the bed for Father Christmas to fill with presents. Us parents had to sneak up at some time in the night and hide and biscuits and milk! (laughs)
DFB.de: After finishing your playing career, you worked as a coach and a trainer all over the world. Burma, Liberia, Pakistan, Yemen and Tanzania are just some of the destinations where you have worked. Have you experienced any special Christmas experiences during your time out there?
Trautmann: We essentially trained locals to become coaches out there. I wasn’t the only german out there and there were development advisors from several backgrounds and nations. I spent three years in the socialist society of Burma and there wasn’t much in the way of Western influences. I celebrated Christmas with the other Germans in Burma. We were a close group and got to know one another very well. It is often possible on bank holidays such as Christmas to transport a feeling of home elsewhere.
DFB.de: You have won several titles and awards during your career. In the UK, you received an Order of the British Empire (OBE) and in Germany you received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Is there an award you are particularly proud of?
Trautmann: Yes, the runner-up medal I received after Man City lost the 1955 FA Cup final to Newcastle United. DFB.de: Even though you lost this match?
Trautmann: There is an interesting story behind this. It is well know that I never played for Germany, so I followed the 1954 World Cup just like any other fan. After Germany became world champions, they played a friendly against England in London in December 1954. I allowed to help the German delegation and visited Wembley for the first time the night before the match. I went onto the pitch, stood between the posts and said to myself: “It would be the greatest privilege to play here once. “ This dream became reality just six months later as we reached the FA Cup final. That was unbelievable for me. Therefore, that runners-up medal feels almost like a winner’s medal for me.
DFB.de: The other accolades don’t mean as much?
Trautmann: Certainly not! Every single award I have received means a lot. I often ask myself how I managed to achieve so much without ever playing for my country. It must mean that I couldn’t have been a bad goalkeeper (laughs).
DFB.de: Where do you keep your trophies and other accolades? In your house in Spain?
Trautmann: No, I actually only have a blue-white 1860 Munich plate with the Munich city hall on it here in Spain. I also have the certificate from the Queen and a collage of pictures from my career courtesy of ZDF. I have several items in Germany or donated certain items to charitable causes. The DFB-Museum has also asked me whether I would give items to the museum.
DFB.de: From Spain, do you follow the Bundesliga, the Premier League or La Liga?
Trautmann: I follow them all around the same. I read a lot about each league in the newspapers and also watch a lot of TV. I don’t overdo it but I definitely watch each big match.
DFB.de: How interested are you in the progress of German goalkeepers? You have said in the past that Manuel Neuer isn’t naturally talented.
Trautmann: I don’t actually remember saying that. Manuel Neuer is a goalkeeper who reads a game very well and is very intelligent. However, I have to add that I’m delighted to see René Adler back playing again after a lot period out. I’m impressed at how well he is playing after a long period out. You can judge how good a goalkeeper is from their work at the back for their team, not by how strong their saves are. Goalkeepers have to participate in the flow of the match and should only really stay on their lines for penalties.
DFB.de: You spent your career in England, a country who have not performed well against Germany when matches have been decided by penalties. Notably during the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Championship semi-finals, how did you feel to see Germany go through but England crash out?
Trautmann: It was a shame that one of the teams had to go out of the competition. It was always the case that defended German football when I was in England and English football when I was in Germany. Matches between Germany and England are always difficult for me. On the one hand, I want Germany to win, but I also don’t want England to lose.
DFB.de: In 2013, you will turn 90 years old. Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
Trautmann: I don’t make any New Year’s resolutions but I was wishes for next year, including staying in good health. I also want friends and family to stay healthy.
Bert Trautmann sadly passed away on 19th July 2013.