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Football legend who played for Bucks will have his life turned into a film

By Mark Andrews | Dudley | Football | Published:

It wasn't the most illustrious period of his career. Seven games, five defeats, and a red card. But the month Bert Trautmann spent between the sticks at the Bucks Head marked the end of one of the most remarkable stories in football history.

And Trautmann's story, which saw him go from an enemy prisoner of war to a British football hero, and ending his career as a stopgap keeper at Wellington Town, is about to be made into a new film.

One of the finest goalkeepers ever, admired for his acrobatic athleticism and agility, Trautmann helped to take his team to victory in the 1956 FA Cup final. He famously continued to play after he broke his neck in the last 17 minutes of the game.

The victory was all the more remarkable because of the great hostility he had endured when he controversially signed for Manchester City in 1949, just four years after the war in which the German had fought for the Nazis.

A former Luftwaffe paratrooper who was awarded the Iron Cross for bravery, he had been captured by the Russians, the French Resistance and the Americans, and had escaped on each occasion. However, after escaping the Americans in the latter stages of the war, he jumped over a fence, only to land at the feet of a British soldier, who greeted him with the words "Hello Fritz, fancy a cup of tea?"

He was initially suspected of being a Nazi, but the was later cleared of any involvement with the regime, and was sent to a PoW camp at Ashford-in-Makerfield, Lancashire, where he started playing football.

While playing centre-half against amateur side Haydock Park, Trautmann was injured and swapped positions with goalkeeper Günther Lühr, and from that game onwards he continued to play in goal. During this time he picked up the nickname Bert as the English could not pronounce his German name of Bernd. It has also been suggested that he may have played for the PoW camp at Hodnet, although there are others who have cast doubt on that suggestion.

Trautmann's arrivals at Manchester City sparked outrage among ex-servicemen and Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. One demonstration reportedly attracted 20,000 protesters. But he won over supporters and eventually secured a place in English football folklore.

The film, which will simply be called Trautmann, is being made by British-German company Pistachio Pictures. Its British producer is Chris Curling, whose films include The Last Station, a drama about Tolstoy starring Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer in Oscar-nominated performances. It is not yet known whether his ill-fated time in Shropshire will also be featured in the film.

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Trautmann signed for Wellington Town – now AFC Telford United – in September, 1964, after the Bucks' regular keeper Mick Richards was out with a broken arm. Having just left Manchester City, Trautmann was being paid £50 a game – about £1,000 in today's money – to turn out for the Bucks, but it was not a particularly happy time for the legend.

His debut came in an FA Cup tie against Dudley Town, which the Bucks lost 3-1. The sheer presence of such a big name ensured bumper crowds, but over the course of the next month he found himself on the losing side five times as Wellington floundered in the lower echelons of the Southern Premier League, and he was sent off for violent conduct in a game against Tonbridge. It was not a huge surprise when he announced that he would not be extending his initial one-month deal.

Former Wellington town player Laurie Jones remembers the Tonbridge game well.

“He gave a penalty away, he up-ended somebody," recalls Laurie, now 76, from Craven Arms.

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"He was not satisfied with that and gave a lot of lip to the ref who had no option but to send him off.”

Trautmann's most famous moment came in the 1956 FA Cup Final, when Manchester City beat Birmingham City 3-1.

With 17 minutes remaining, a Birmingham chance arose when Peter Murphy outpaced Dave Ewing.

Trautmann dived at the feet of Murphy to win the ball, but in the collision Murphy's right knee hit Trautmann's neck with a forceful blow. Trautmann was knocked unconscious, and the referee stopped play immediately.

Trainer Laurie Barnett rushed onto the pitch, and treatment continued for several minutes. No substitutes were permitted, so Manchester City would have to see out the game with 10 men if Trautmann was unable to continue. Captain Roy Paul felt certain Trautmann was not fit to complete the match, and wanted to put Roy Little in goal, but Trautmann insisted on staying goal. He played out the remaining minutes in great pain, with the Manchester City defenders attempting to clear the ball well upfield or into the stand whenever it came near. Trautmann was called upon to make two further saves, the second causing him to recoil in agony due to a collision with Ewing, which required the trainer to revive him

Curling said although the film, which will see shooting begin over the summer, was about a footballer, it was not really a film about sport.

"For me, it’s much more a personal story about a young guy who got caught up in the Nazi movement and was then fighting on the eastern front," he says.

"He saw terrible things in the war and was eventually captured by the British. When he entered the PoW camp, he was still following Nazi ideology. But he learned to see a different version of the world. He decided to stay in the UK, fell in love and was very successful on the football field. That interests me as much as the football.”

Before his death at the age of 89 in 2013, Trautmann had spent several days with the film-makers, giving interviews to Marcus Rosenmüller, a German writer-director who used to play football semi-professionally, and producer Robert Marciniak. While drawing on archive footage, they will also recreate Trautmann’s prowess as an athlete with computer-generated imagery.

German actor David Kross, who starred in Stephen Daldry’s Oscar-nominated The Reader, will play Trautmann, while Freya Mavor, described by Curling as a major new talent, will portray Margaret, the Englishwoman Trautmann fell in love with.

Curling said Trautmann's story was also one of reconciliation.

"There was a big campaign against him at Manchester City. So, in the film, we watch a man coming to terms with his past and starting anew, overcoming hostility towards him," he says.

"These days, that seems particularly relevant as well – how we as British people treat outsiders.”

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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