This article contains a first-hand account of how the Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann suffered a grave injury in the 1956 FA Cup final.
In the 1950s the FA Cup, the world’s oldest football competition, was held in far greater public esteem than it is today. Far, far greater, in fact.
And it was because of the great competition’s special status that players strove that little bit harder with a result that the number of injuries was disproportionate to the number suffered in other matches.
Finals, in particular, were keenly contested, things becoming so bad that the epithet the Wembley hoodoo was born.
Mostly it was outfield players who suffered, but goalies copped it, too.
In 1958 Manchester United’s Harry Gregg was the third keeper in successive finals to be unceremoniously clobbered. A challenge by Bolton’s Nat Lofthouse laid him out and it was discovered only later that things might have been so much worse for Gregg. He had gone into the match with a fractured skull, an injury he suffered a few weeks before in the Munich air crash that killed eight of his United teammates.
Twelve months earlier, in 1957, the stricken goalie was another Manchester United keeper, Ray Wood, who was to lose his place after United recruited Gregg from Doncaster Rovers. Wood had a cheekbone shattered in a collision with Aston Villa’s Peter McParland.
It was the year before that, 1956, that Bert Trautmann of Manchester City was the unfortunate victim of a very nasty collision.
Trautmann, a German who had fought for his country in the Second World War, had settled in Lancashire after being captured and imprisoned by the British towards the end of the war.
A goalkeeper known for his bravery, he was knocked unconscious 17 minutes from the end of the 1956 final when he launched himself at the feet of the Birmingham City inside-forward Peter Murphy. It would turn out that this was much more than just a nasty blow on the head.
Bill Leivers, City’s right back, was a few yards from Trautmann when the incident happened.
‘So many times I’d seen him in goal and he was absolutely fearless,’ Leivers says. ‘He’d go down head first and he’d get up and go “Woooo…”, but his pride wouldn’t let him do any more than that.
‘At Wembley he did his usual thing and went down for the ball head first. When he came round I was saying to myself, “He’s really badly hurt”, because he kept feeling his neck, which he wouldn’t normally have done.’
Trautmann kept playing until the end of the match and it was not until four days later that he was found to have dislocated five vertebrae the second of which was broken. His recovery took seven months.
During this time, Leivers became his chauffeur. ‘Bert had a plaster on right down to his waist with four pins into his skull.’