Modern footballers are quite often labelled ‘light-weight’ and ‘weak’ for feigning injury regularly during a match, however, in 1956 one man took footballer’s toughness levels above and beyond anything ever witnessed in sport. Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann continued to play the remainder of the FA Cup final against Birmingham after breaking his neck.
With 17 minutes remaining, a Birmingham chance arose when Roy Murphy outpaced Dave Ewing. Goalkeeper Trautmann dived at the feet of Murphy to win the ball, but in the collision, Murphy’s right knee hit Trautmann’s neck with a forceful blow.
Trautmann was knocked unconscious, and the referee stopped play immediately. Trainer Laurie Barnett rushed onto the pitch, and treatment continued for several minutes.
No substitutes were permitted, so Manchester City would have to see out the game with ten men if Trautmann was unable to continue. Captain Roy Paul felt certain that Trautmann was not fit to complete the match, and wished to put Roy Little in goal instead.
However, Trautmann, dazed and unsteady on his feet, insisted upon keeping his goal. He played out the remaining minutes in great pain, with the Manchester City defenders attempting to clear the ball well upfield or into the stand whenever it came near.
Trautmann was called upon to make two further saves to deny Brown and Murphy, the second causing him to recoil in agony due to a collision with Ewing, which required the trainer to revive him.
Trautmann’s neck continued to cause him pain, and Prince Philip commented on its crooked state as he gave Trautmann his winner’s medal. Three days later, an examination revealed that Trautmann had broken a bone in his neck.
Trautmann attended the evening’s post-match banquet despite being unable to move his head and went to bed expecting his injury to heal with rest. As the pain did not recede, the following day he went to St George’s Hospital, where he was told he merely had a crick in his neck which would go away.
Three days later, he got a second opinion from a doctor at Manchester Royal Infirmary. An X-ray revealed he had dislocated five vertebrae in his neck, the second of which was cracked in two. The third vertebra had wedged against the second, preventing further damage which could have cost Trautmann his life.
Trautmann played more than 500 times for City between 1949-64, having first arrived in England as a prisoner of war.