A life less ordinary

An amazing article about a former paratrooper in Hitler’s war on the Russian front.

Link to the story here.


A snippet:

Despatched to the Russian front, he experienced, first hand, the true horrors of war – though, such was his talent, he was once called back from close to Moscow to represent his division in a game of handball in Smolensk, 400km away – and twice escaped after capture by first the Russians and later the French. He saw friends and comrades killed and himself was once trapped in the rubble of an empty school building for three days after an allied bombing raid, able only to move one arm.

Later transferred to the western front, attempting to take a group of injured men to a field hospital, Trautmann was taken prisoner for the last time, by British forces in Belgium. It is understandable, then, that when asked how he felt on his eventual capture, he replied ‘relieved.’

Eventually moved to a prisoner of war camp in Ashton, near Manchester, sport, and particularly football was a release for the men there. Fate, and an injury, were to take a hand here also. Desperate to play in one of the games arranged between the camp and local amateur teams, but carrying a knock, Trautmann, a midfield player usually, asked if he could go in goal. He never came out again.

In 1947 he declined an opportunity to be repatriated and elected to remain in England for a year. Having impressed in games for Camp 50 he had secured a place in a local team, St. Helens.

His notoriety spread quickly – ‘When I went they had an average gate of around 450 and when I left it was up to 6,000’ – and league clubs came calling. However, when news leaked that City had signed a former member of the Luftwaffe, it provoked outrage on a mass scale.

Before he came we had chaos – not something you can call a football league. Trautmann can well be described as the father of modern football in Tanzania.
Atillion Tagalile

Season tickets were returned, vitriol-filled letters of condemnation published in the local press and more than 20,000 people took to the streets to protest.

‘I was living outside Manchester at the time and my English wasn’t very good,’ recalls Trautmann, ‘so I didn’t see or read about it, but they told me people went to the streets and threatened a boycott. They had banners saying if you sign this German, this Nazi, we won’t come to the ground.’

The rabbi of Manchester wrote an open letter to the local press urging people not to hold one man responsible for the war and to allow his sportsmanship to be revealed and not pre-judged.

‘But they accepted me very quickly, this is the amazing thing. After only a month, two home games for the reserves, they accepted me.


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