Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend by Catrine Clay
|Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend by Catrine Clay|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: An educational and entertaining sports biography that completely successfully opens out to be a history story of World War Two, and works on all fronts. (Much like its subject.)|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: April 2010|
|Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press|
You have to learn to be hard men, to accept sacrifice without ever succumbing. Such did Hitler say at the Nuremberg Nazi Party rallies in the 1930s. He probably did not have in mind playing in goal at a FA Cup final with a broken neck, such is the lifetime of difference between the two references. But that lifetime, as packed and varied as it was, is in the pages of this ever-interesting and swiftly-devoured book.
I started it with an opinion that might be taken the wrong way, but I’ll repeat it anyway. It read like a biography a sports book fan would enjoy, much more than a standard life history. But Catrine Clay soon demolishes that hasty verdict – the narrative includes a host of context, and countless instances of history, and all of it hangs on the personality she is concentrating on – that of Bert Trautmann – so that we always see into his life, the choices he made, and the bearing others had on his journey to Maine Road and beyond.
She labours to repeat Trautmann did not really become a Hitler Youth member from absolute choice. But the young Bremen resident was nothing if not diligent. He knew it would certainly make it easier for his father to keep up his exhausting but valued employment on the docks if he became a member. The lad’s character was caring in that regard, if sometimes violently so – duffing up a fellow apprentice he had only recently outranked, for being an insolent skiver. And he was ever interested in sports, and the Nazi party membership allowed him to do so much in competitive sport he could not do otherwise. He quickly became a champion athlete in football, handball, a kind of dodgeball - and, er, grenade throwing.
His diligence and the foresight into his future drummed into him by the Hitler Youth led to Trautmann volunteering for the military aged just seventeen. The chapters that follow the swings and arrows of his outrageous fortunes are the fullest here of context, as we see Hitler becoming a buffoon in regard to his armies, and the Allied forces making their impact on Bert's life. Ukrainian killing fields are encountered, and he is used on both Nazi fronts before Trautmann becomes a POW, and is encamped in England.
It's blatant that his first name is not on the cover of my copy of this book, and indeed I've used it scarcely here, for it changed with the circumstances of the man's life. There's Berni the teenager under Nazi rule, Bernd the soldier among his Kameraden, then the POW worker, then Bert the English professional footballer. The fact he had so many sides to his history might be better known than it is, and this is the book to convey that.
Yes, there are slight repetitions about his being brainwashed by German anti-Jewish propaganda - we almost feel the same in being forced to like our hero - but I had to admire the way things opened out and beyond the memoir format to convey all the relevant European wartime history as well. There are countless examples of this context-building, but one will serve and not spoil the plot - the way he begins to absorb English sports and their results is only a paragraph away from the BBC commentators he was listening to on the radio beginning to have - shock, horror - regional accents.
This is most certainly not a ghosted autobiography, and however long Clay has spent researching her narrative alongside and away from her subject she has a great ability to leave him behind for pages, and to get the bigger picture. It’s also evident how little she editorialises – there could easily be an authorial comment regarding the fact that a handsome young man, admired by all the WAGs of their day, was the very epitome of Aryan, Nazi youth. I would have fit in a pat statement about how the great footballer never played for a national squad.
This then is a book that is completely 50/50 biography and history. A few percentiles of sport too, though, to deny my maths, as we see from just the foreword - Trautmann is still revered by the blue half of Manchester at least, as a heroic sportsman, and not just for his carrying on through horrid injury.
Trautmann had a great journey, as the title suggests - not just from Hitler Youth to lauded British footballer - and neither just from playing as centre forward to between the goalposts. Some people might have preferred this book to me more academic and dry, or perhaps to have less WWII detail, but I found the balance to be almost spot on, and the Trautmann life story well worth engaging with within these covers.
I must thank the people at Random House's Yellow Jersey side of things for my review copy.
For potted, more trivial football biographies, we can recommend Where Are They Now? - Rediscovering Over 100 Football Stars of the 70s and 80s by Matt Allen, while you might wish to gen up on a modern star of the game, who plied his trade elsewhere in Manchester – Moments by Cristiano Ronaldo.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend by Catrine Clay at Amazon.com.
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