The real-life tales of a football writer
Catalan national radio called yesterday to ask about the Munich air disaster. They're doing a one-hour documentary on the 50th anniversary next week. I told them that they would be better speaking to someone older who remembered it, but they wanted an English Spanish speaker to explain the context of the disaster. I thought they wanted a couple of minutes, but I was still speaking 28 minutes later.
I felt flattered that such a big foreign radio station were making a documentary about United. They’ll doubtless splice the interview and I’ll end up being used for six or seven minutes, ensuring that proper space can be afforded to the former Barça and Madrid players who remembered the Busby Babes.
The radio journalist I spoke to told me that former Barcelona goalkeeper Antonio Ramallets, named in the best XI of the 1950 World Cup, still holds a silent vigil on 6th February each year in honour of those who lost their lives.
Later on, I called the former Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann to speak to him about Frank Swift, another former Manchester City goalkeeper who died at Munich while covering United for The News of the World.
These days Trautmann, the German who famously didn’t realise he’d broken his neck in the 1956 FA Cup final, lives by the orange fields on the coast near Valencia. I spent a day with him a couple years ago, a fine figure of health in his mid-80s. A rare Mediterranean swell had breached his garden and Bert was doing all the hard repair work.
Bert’s life story is fascinating. Indoctrinated into Nazism from the age of eight, he was a paratrooper in WW2. He was captured and escaped from the Russians on the Eastern Front, was then captured and released by Americans on the Western Front and finally taken by the British who put him in a prisoner of war camp at Haydock, between Manchester and Liverpool.
His English still has the deep flat vowels of the South Lancashire working-class. The first player to wear Adidas in England, he told me that he had spent his life defending the English to the Germans – and the Germans to the English.
He spoke movingly about Swift and invited me to drop in next time I’m down the coast. As his wife makes the best cakes I’ve ever tasted in Spain, I’m more than keen.
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