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We need sports documentaries of our heroes

WHILE recently watching the Manchester City FC channel I found myself wondering why don’t we produce short documentaries on the life and achievements of some of our great sports legends, just like the way other countries do.

This was after it screened the life story of one man who gave a respectable contribution in the development of soccer in Tanzania during his two years assignment as coach of the Taifa Stars.

The documentary, Grave Decisions, which was directed by Marcus H. Rosenmüller assembles a narrative in which, ultimately, the beautiful game draws former enemies together, in a competitive, but friendly atmosphere.

This story was on the life of former Tanzanian national football coach, Benhard Carl Trautmann, who died in Spain in July 2013, aged 90.

He came to Tanzania in 1974 as part of West Germany’s sports assistance programme and to some extent succeeded in reorganising the country’s league as well as developing the skills of local coaches.

When he came to Tanzania we had a 20-team league played in a two-legged home and away knockout format, but he reduced the number to 12 playing at home and away. Some of the country’s best local coaches, such as Joel Bendera, Paul West Gwivaha and Ray Gama, picked some training skills and techniques from Trautmann.

He also helped in the formation of the Tanzania Football Coaches Association (Tafca) and the Sports Medicine Doctors. The film shows Trautmann, footballer and manager who was born in Bremen, Germany was a self-confident, gregarious, though rather quick-tempered boy.

When Adolf Hitler’s youth movement was gaining rampant momentum and, caught inexorably by the spirit of the times, Trautmann became a member, but at the same time was active in sports.

He represented Silesia region in national championships at Berlin’s Olympic stadium in 1938 and displayed physical strength and dexterity that was to stand him in good stead in later life.

Trautmann took his first job, as an apprentice car mechanic in Bremen, an occupation for which he showed natural aptitude.

Soon after the war began he joined the Luftwaffe, yearning to be a pilot but serving as a wireless operator before transferring to the paratroop regiment.

He was sent to Poland and thence to Russia, enduring the horrors and hardship of a long and fruitless campaign. Trautmann fought and killed in nightmarish conditions – the ground was frozen so hard that the dead could not be buried – before falling back to help combat the Allies advance into France.

In 1945, having won five medals for bravery, he was shipped, bewildered and fatigued, to England as a prisoner of war at Lancashire where later he was employed by a bomb-disposal unit.

Trautmann switched from his former position of centre-forward to goalkeeper and discovering that he was enormously good at it. In 1948 he signed for St Helens Town, an enterprising non-League team with whom he made such rapid and gigantic strides that he was trailed by leading clubs.

A large and vociferous faction of Manchester’s extensive Jewish community objected vigorously to the employment of a former paratrooper of Dictator Hitler.

At Fulham he was confronted by malicious jibes. As “Heil Hitler” chants echoed the stadium he performed so magnificently that at the final whistle he was given a standing ovation by the crowd and the Fulham players had to form a spontaneous guard of honour as he left the pitch.

The film elaborates details of the problems of an extraordinary life which was full of challenges and trauma that Trauttman went through (war, followed by POW camp, followed by football, girlfriend, child, broken neck, etc).

It also devotes time to show the ultimate of acceptance as a great footballer and coach in many countries. His life story is an inspiration in very different times, when reconciliation can seem so difficult. In a nutshell Bert Trautmann was a footballer who overcame prejudice and went on to play with a broken neck in the FA Cup final.

For most footballers, keeping goal in an FA Cup final while suffering from a broken neck would be the most dramatic, and traumatic, event of their lives. But this was not for the courageous Bert Trautmann.

He became the first goalkeeper and the first foreigner to be voted Footballer of the Year, then performed to his customary splendid standard as City moved into a match-winning position in their second successive FA Cup final.

In the 1958-59 he played some of the finest football of his life as he helped City avoid demotion. Though never quite as acrobatic as he was before, Trautmann regained his position as one of the world’s leading keepers.

Despite attaining his late thirties Trautmann remained City’s first-choice keeper until 1962-63; he retired in 1964 when more than 48,000 fans paid tribute at his testimonial match.

Trautmann’s worldwide renown was underlined by his success as an attaché to West Germany during the 1966 World Cup finals in England, an association which led to coaching jobs in his homeland, first with Preussen Munster in 1967, then with Opel Russelheim in 1969.

He later moved to Burma (now Maynamar) and was the country national team coach and later had stints in Tanzania, Liberia, Pakistan, Yemen and Malta, before he retired in 1988.

The documentary is very educative and entertaining and helps young people to know Bert. In 1997, Trautmann received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

He was appointed an honorary OBE in 2004 for his work in Anglo-German relations, and received the award at the British Embassy in Berlin. In 2005, he was inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame. He continued to follow Manchester City and visited Manchester to watch them play, with his last visit in April 2010.

Trautmann said during one of his visits, “I watch all City’s games on TV, they’re still my club”, and added, “I love England too and still shout for them – even if they’re playing Germany!”

He also wished to had an opportunity to see how the national teams of Tanzania, Myanmar and Yemen were playing so as to remind him of the days when he was in these countries.

He loved to meet Tanzanians who visited England and he occasionally paid a courtesy call at our High Commission in London and picked some packets of Tanzania coffee to take home to remind himself about the land of Mount Kilimanjaro.

The most impressive lesson from this documentary of the former Tanzanian national soccer team coach is that it shows Bert was an amazing man who helped bring warring countries closer together and helped to develop soccer in many countries.

I wish our television channels which devote most of their air time sports gambling, music of Bongo flavor and stories similar to those of Alfu Leila U-leila (The Thousand Nights), Sinbad Bahari and Mr Beans would spare some time to make documentaries of our sports legends.

They have interesting stories of their life and achievements which are worth to be documented. It is a bit late, but better late than never.

ON Thursday this week, Pope ...

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Author: SALIM SAID SALIM

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