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FRANKFURT, July 19 (Reuters) – Bert Trautmann, a former German Prisoner of War who became a footballer in England and famously broke his neck playing in goal for Manchester City in the 1956 FA Cup final, died on Friday at the age of 89.
In a tribute on their website (www.mcfc.co.uk), City described him as “one of the greatest Manchester City goalkeepers of all time and a true club legend.”
The German FA (DFB) said in a statement that Trautmann, a Luftwaffe paratrooper stationed in the Soviet Union and France during World War Two, died at his home near Valencia, Spain.
“Bert Trautmann was a great sportsman and a real gentleman,” said DFB president Wolfsgang Niersbach.
“He was already a legend in his own lifetime. His extraordinary career will remain in the history books for ever.”
The DFB said Trautmann had made a good recovery after twice suffering heart attacks this year and that his death was “a complete surprise”.
Trautmann joined Manchester City in 1949 and went on to make 545 appearances, including the famous 1956 FA Cup final where they beat Birmingham City 3-1 and he played the last quarter of an hour with a broken neck after colliding with opponent Peter Murphy.
At the end of that season he became the first overseas player to become England’s Footballer of the Year.
“I still have pain if I make unexpected movements of my head,” he told the Guardian newspaper in an interview in 2010.
“But I was very lucky: surgeons told me I could have died or been paralysed.”
Trautmann was born in Bremen in 1923, was a member of the Hitler Youth at the age of 10 and signed up as a paratrooper in 1941.
He was captured by the British in France in 1944. He was transferred to Britain and turned down offers of repatriation after the war.
Trautmann, awarded the Iron Cross for his actions in the Soviet Union, was one of only 90 members of his original 1,000-strong regiment still alive in 1945, and several of his fellow survivors were left badly maimed.
Trautmann stayed in England and played amateur football for St Helens Town, where his reputation quickly grew and he joined Manchester City in 1949.
He was given some hostile receptions in his early days and Manchester City were relegated in 1950, but bounced back at the first attempt.
He helped Manchester City reach the 1955 FA Cup final where they lost 3-1 to Newcastle United and he became the first German player to take part in English soccer’s showpiece occasion.
A year later, they reached the final again and this time beat Birmingham City, helped by Trautmann’s save when he dived at the feet of Murphy 17 minutes from time.
Despite being in obvious pain and rubbing his neck, the full extent of his injury was not revealed until three days later.
West Germany’s policy of only selecting home-based players meant he never played for his country, however.
Trautmann later worked in Burma, Tanzania, Pakistan and Yemen where he was employed by the German government on a football-coaching initiative.
His remarkable lifestory: “Trautmann’s Journey, From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend” was told by author Catrine Clay and won a number of awards after it was published two years ago.
Former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson said Trautmann was his boyhood hero who brought the former warring nations of Britain and Germany closer together while Joe Corrigan, who played for City in the 1981 Cup final, also paid a moving tribute.
“Bert became my hero and though I didn’t get to see him play that often and only saw grainy clips of him on Pathe News bulletins at the cinema, even as a kid, I knew he was special.”
Former Manchester United rival Bobby Charlton has described Trautmann as “the best goalkeeper I ever played against.” (Reporting by Brian Homewood, writing by Mike Collett, editing by Justin Palmer)