FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Bert Trautmann, a German WWII paratrooper and former prisoner of war who became Manchester City’s goalkeeper and helped the team win the 1956 FA Cup despite playing with a broken neck for the last 17 minutes of the final, died Friday. He was 89.
The German Football Federation said Trautmann died in La Llosa, near Valencia, Spain, where he lived. Trautmann’s wife Marlies told the federation he died Friday morning.
Trautmann had suffered two heart attacks this year but appeared to have recovered well, according to DFB.
Manchester City called Trautmann one of the club’s “greatest goalkeepers of all time and a true club legend.”
“Bert Trautmann was a great sportsman and a real gentleman,” DFB president Wolfgang Niersbach said. “He came as a soldier and war enemy to England and became a celebrated hero. He was a living legend.”
Trautmann made 545 appearances for City between 1949 and 1964 and was revered for his performance in the team’s 1956 FA Cup final win over Birmingham.
In 2004, he was appointed an honorary Officer of the British Empire for his efforts to improve Anglo-German relations.
Born in Bremen between the two world wars, Trautmann joined the Luftwaffe and served as a paratrooper during World War II, earning an Iron Cross. He was captured in Russia, escaped and was captured again by the British as the war drew to a close.
He was sent to a prisoner of war camp in Ashton-in-Makerfield, near Wigan, where Trautmann caught attention during football matches played there.
Although a capable outfield player, he was forced into goal after picking up an injury during a match. Tall and athletic, Trautmann was a natural.
He would later claim his training as a paratrooper made it easy for him to perform acrobatic dives because he knew how to fall to the ground without injuring himself, according to a biography posted on the Manchester City’s website.
After playing for a local non-league side, Trautmann joined Manchester City in 1949, accompanied by the protest of 20,000 with memories of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany still fresh.
Trautmann was the first German to play in a Wembley FA Cup final when City finished runner-up to Newcastle in 1955.
One year later, Trautmann became the hero of City’s triumph.
City had taken a 3-1 lead against Birmingham and with 17 minutes to go Trautmann dived at the feet of the onrushing forward Peter Murphy. The Birmingham player’s knee collided with the City goalkeeper’s neck and Trautmann was knocked out.
At the time, no substitutions were allowed and Trautmann, although unsteady, returned to his place between the posts, according to an account on City’s website.
Trautmann produced two more outstanding saves and then collided with his own defender, Dave Ewing, and had to be revived again before he could continue. While receiving his medal, Trautmann complained of a “stiff neck.”
It was only three days later that an X-ray revealed a broken neck.
Trautmann was named the Football Writers’ Player of the Year eight days before the final, the first foreign player to earn the honor.
“I played over 500 league games for City but that moment is still the one people refer to so it can be a little frustrating at times because no matter how well I played during that time, people will still say, ‘Ah, you’re the fellow who broke his neck playing at Wembley,'” Trautmann once said.
After the final, Trautmann needed time to recover from injury and personal tragedy — his five-year-old son was killed by a car. But he did and played on until he was 40.
Trautmann made England his adopted country and declined to be repatriated. He married locally, worked on a farm and later with a bomb disposal unit in Liverpool. His performances with the non-league club St. Helen Town often brought out crowds of 9,000 — huge by the team’s standards — and caught the eye of Manchester City.
He made his City debut in a 2-0 loss to Arsenal and played in 100 consecutive games before missing his first game through injury.
During one of his first games in London, still bearing the signs of heavy damage in Nazi Germany’s air raids, Trautmann overcame a hostile reception to play so well that at the end of the game the players formed a line on either side of the tunnel and applauded him, while the Fulham crowd gave him a standing ovation.
During his career, he saved 60 percent of the penalties he faced.
West Germany at the time only selected home-based players and he never played for the country of his birth. When West Germany won the 1954 World Cup, he was a translator for the team.
Soviet Union goalkeeper Lev Yashin, considered by many to be the greatest ever, once said he knew only two world-class keepers — himself and Trautmann.
After retiring, Trautmann helped in the development of football in Africa and worked on improving Anglo-German ties.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.