How did it feel to be Bert Trautmann?

While “The Red Devils” locked horns with “The Eagles”  in the 135th FA Cup, Subhajit Sengupta spun the clock back to take through one such FA Cup final encounter at Wembley when Cù Sìth came to Birmingham’s rescue but was kept at bay by the “The Citizens” custodian, Bert Trautmann.

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

– Bill Shankly must have had a face-off with Bert Trautmann right before he said that. However, his story is not all football centric in nature.

Source: www.mancityproject.in
Source: www.mancityproject.in
Although English clubs had seldom proved to be a fecund land for Germans, Bert Trautmann remains a name written in golden words in the English FA history. Despite his world class goalkeeping ability, he had to endure a series of agonising controversies from the English fans due to his censured past but Trautmann, by then an altered and far more matured personality, won their hearts and became one of their own. When he took the field on 5th May, 1956, a packed Wembley leaped to its feet in support of their foreign star as “The Citizens” from Manchester were lining up for their second consecutive FA Cup final.

Manchester City F.C. posing for a team photo before 1956 FA Cup final at Wembley (Source: www.mcfc.com)
Manchester City F.C. posing for a team photo before 1956 FA Cup final at Wembley (Source: www.mcfc.com)

Bernhard Carl “Bert” Trautmann was born on 22 October 1923 to a lower middle class family in Bremen. His father used to work in a fertiliser factory by the docks of Walle in west Bremen. The desolate financial struggle in the early 1930s left his father with no choice but to sell their place and moved to the working class area of Gröpelingen. The young Trautmann had a keen interest in outdoor sports especially in football, handball and völkerball (another form of dodgeball). To fulfil his appetite for playing in the green field, he joined the YMCA and football club Blau und Weiss. At a time when the Hitler youth movement was gaining widespread momentum, caught relentlessly by the spirit of the nation, the self-confident, lively but short tempered boy joined the Jungvolk, a precursor to the Hitler Youth. However, the radical political propaganda never interested him as most of his energy was spent in a wide range of sports. He was awarded a certificate for athletic excellence in 1934 signed by Paul von Hindenburg, the President of Germany. But these certificates didn’t earn daily meals for his family. So, at the onset of the Second World War, Trautmann, as the elder son of the family, took the job of an apprentice motor mechanic. Soon after the war broke out, he joined the Luftwaffe as a radio operator in 1941. During his training, he showed little aptitude for the job which resulted in a transfer to Spandau to become a Fallschirmjäger (paratrooper).

Known for his unorthodox sense of humour, Trautmann had paid the price several times. The worst of it came when he was stationed in occupied Poland. One of his practical jokes involving a car backfired on him which resulted in a sergeant burning his arms. As a result, he was court-martialled and received a three-month imprisonment. However, this dark sense of humour helped him in the later course of life to survive the outrage of fans and become an entertainer in the Manchester City dressing room. In October 1941, he re-joined the 35th Infantry Division at Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. Despite his unit  being hit hard by the Soviet counter-offensive force which forced the Germans to withdraw their troop, Unteroffizier (corporal) Trautmann won five medals for his bravery on the Eastern Front, including an Iron Cross First Class and was later promoted to Feldwebel (sergeant) rank. During his time in the German army, he was caught thrice by the Russians, the French and the British soldiers. Though he managed to escape from captivity twice, he did not attempt a third escape from the British army as the war was drawing to a close. During his captivity under the British soldiers, he was imprisoned with other Nazi prisoners and transferred to several Prisoner of War (PoW) camps on different occasions until his final destination at PoW Camp 50 in Ashton-in-Makerfield in Lancashire.

Football was an immensely popular game amongst the prisoners of war and almost instantly Trautmann found his lost love back. He became a regular outfield player for the camp team and widely popular by the name “Bert”, as the English had trouble pronouncing “Bernd”. However, while playing against amateur team Haydock Park, he suffered an injury that forced him to switch his centre-half position with goalkeeper Gunther Luhr. Since then he made 553 senior appearances for three different clubs.

Bert Trautmann dives through the air to tip a shot from Wolves’ Ronald Flowers past his post (Source: www.mcfc.com)
Bert Trautmann dives through the air to tip a shot from Wolves’ Ronald Flowers past his post (Source: www.mcfc.com)

After the closure of the PoW camp, Trautmann declined an offer of repatriation and stayed in England. He took a job in a bomb disposal unit in Huyton but his love for the game started to write a different future of fame for him. The first of which came his way in August of 1948 when he signed for the non-league Liverpool County Combination club in St Helens Town. Over the season the big German’s reputation grew steadily and, almost inevitably, he became the centre of everyone’s attraction. He pulled up a record number of crowd to witness his acrobatic display between the posts regularly contributing to the club’s revenue. With his success, St Helens Town got promoted to second division of the Lancashire Combination League in 1949–50 season and Trautmann caught the eyes of the leading first division clubs. Burnley initially became favourites and landed him at Turf Moor; but in November 1949 Manchester City acquired his signature, and within a few weeks, Trautmann found himself in first division action. Moreover, his friendship with Adolf Dassler, founder of the German sportswear company Adidas, helped him to become the first sportsman in Britain to sport Adidas.

As the news of the big German’s signing spread across the media, all of England including the home fans reacted furiously. Season ticket holders threatened to boycott, and various groups in Manchester and around the country flooded the club with protest letters. Adding to the difficulties, Trautmann replaced Frank Swift, one of the greatest keepers in the club’s history and that turned out to be something unacceptable to the fans. The club captain Eric Westwood tried to minimize the hatred amongst the home crowd by announcing “There’s no war in this dressing room”. Dr Altmann, the communal rabbi of Manchester wrote an open letter stating “Despite the terrible cruelties we suffered at the hands of the Germans, we would not try to punish an individual German, who is unconnected with these crimes, out of hatred. If this footballer is a decent fellow, I would say there is no harm in it. Each case must be judged on its own merits”. Yet the situation continued to worsen in the away matches. This reached its peak in January 1950, when City travelled to Craven Cottage, which was also Trautmann’s first visit to London. The match became the centre of widespread media attention as most of the leading British press were London-based. Amongst the crowd, several leading sports writers came to watch the German in action for the first time. During the 90 minutes of action, the crowds yelled “Kraut”, “Nazi” and “Heil Hitler” chants as Fulham managed a narrow 1-0 victory in the end. After the final whistle a different chant surrounded Craven Cottage. Trautmann’s magnificent display resulted in the majority of the crowd giving him a standing ovation and the Fulham players formed a spontaneous guard of honour as he left the pitch.

Bert Trautmann takes to the skies to deny Fulham at Craven Cottage in 1950 (Source: www.whoateallthepies.tv)
Bert Trautmann takes to the skies to deny Fulham at Craven Cottage in 1950 (Source: www.whoateallthepies.tv)

In spite of this wide spread hatred and his cult image, he remained calm. His dignified reaction spoke volumes for his strength of character. Only few would have known how much the war had changed him. The deaths and bloodshed that he faced tore him inside out. Talking about the true horrors of war, Trautmann recalled the memory of one dark cold night in Russia in October, 1941 when he and his fellow paratrooper Peter Kularz went out to investigate the sounds of shooting and they saw an area in the forest lit up with floodlights. “It was hard to take in. There were trenches dug in the ground about three metres deep and fifty metres long, and people were being herded into them and ordered to lie face down, men, women and children. Einsatzgruppen officers stood above, legs astride, shouting; a firing squad was lined up at the edge of the trenches, shooting into them. For a while everything went quiet, then another group was ordered forward and the firing squad shot another salvo into the trench”. Both of them crawled away from the place and ran for their lives as there could not be any witnesses. But these scenes made a deep impact on his later life and views. “Of course it touched me seeing this. If I’d been a bit older I’d probably have committed suicide.” But luckily he lived and became one of the most-loved and widely respected artists of the beautiful game.

The opening season at the Maine Road went dreadfully for Trautmann as City were relegated to the second division but Trautmann and company bounced back immediately. They were promoted to the first division again in the next season. By then the German had caught the eye of the country and even further. Trautmann was heavily influenced by the Hungarian goalkeeper Gyula Grosics who used to create attack by throwing the ball to a wing-half. Trautmann’s huge commanding figure combined with agility and sharp reflexes along with his fearless attitude made him a showman. His astonishing ability to grab powerful shots calmly into his enormous arms and the precision with which he stopped spot kicks made him a worthy successor of Frank Swift. Over the course of his career he stopped 60% of the spot kicks he faced. Manchester United manager Matt Busby once mentioned during his pre-match team talks: “Don’t stop to think where you’re going to hit it with Trautmann. Hit it first and think afterwards. If you look up and work it out he will read your thoughts and stop it.” Almost a similar statement was recorded from his fellow club mate Neil Young: “the only way to beat him with a shot in training was to mis-hit it”. All these testimonials only enriched his career but he was still yet to enter the football folklore.

Manchester United manager Matt Busby once mentioned during his pre-match team talks: “Don't stop to think where you're going to hit it with Trautmann. Hit it first and think afterwards. If you look up and work it out he will read your thoughts and stop it.”

In 1955, City went on to the FA Cup final for the fifth time, having won only twice in 1904 and 1934. Les McDowall and Don Revie’s newly formed system “Revie Plan” had worked out their way and they were only 90 minutes away from ending the two decade draught of winning the trophy. Unfortunately, Doug Livingstone’s men turned out to be even stronger than “The Sky Blues” of Manchester. Foggy weather and nerves got the better of McDowall’s men. Jackie Milburn took only 45 seconds to give the lead to the “Magpies”. Jimmy Meadows’ injury after 18 minutes added further to the problem as City were left with 10 men for the remaining 72 minutes as in those days the substitute rule hadn’t yet taken effect. The match ended in a comfortable 3-1 victory for Newcastle. Trautmann became the first German to feature in a FA cup final but he was still a long way from the glory.

Bert Trautmann turns his back on the play as snow is whipped into his face during Manchester City’s chilly FA Cup tie against Luton in 1955 (Source: www.whoateallthepies.tv)
Bert Trautmann turns his back on the play as snow is whipped into his face during Manchester City’s chilly FA Cup tie against Luton in 1955 (Source: www.whoateallthepies.tv)

City captain Roy Paul promised after the defeat that he would return to lift the trophy himself 12 months later and with him Trautmann also made a promise to himself: One must cross a mountain between the sticks to help the ball cross the white goal line. They both kept their words. City reached their consecutive second FA Cup final in 1956. City’s road to the final had drawn more sweat from them than Birmingham, the other finalist in that season. They had several close finishes, and even had to play a replay against Liverpool after failing to break the deadlock at Maine Road. On the other hand, Birmingham scored 18 goals in their last five games to reach the final. Quite naturally they were considered “firm favourites” to win the tie but despite the struggling run, Roy Paul and company vowed that they would fight till the final whistle all guns blazing. Who would have thought that their custodian Trautmann, who became the first goalkeeper to win the FWA Footballer of the Year award only two days before the match, was about to create history.

Manchester City keeper Bert Trautmann bows his head as he is introduced to HRH, The Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Phillip) before the 1956 FA Cup Final (Source: www.whoateallthepies.tv)
Manchester City keeper Bert Trautmann bows his head as he is introduced to HRH, The Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Phillip) before the 1956 FA Cup Final (Source: www.whoateallthepies.tv)

Both teams implemented similar formation typical of the era, 3-4-2-1. However, they deployed different tactical approaches. Birmingham, with a strong their defence, relied on powerful tackling and strong final challenges. They had a conventional open direct English approach: getting the ball to the outside-forwards as quickly as possible. But City successfully deployed their “Revie Plan” this time. The system involved using Don Revie in a deeper position than a traditional centre-forward in order to draw a defender out of position. City took only three minutes to break the deadlock. Don Revie created the move, exchanged quick passes with Roy Clarke and then back-heeled into the path of an unmarked Joe Hayes who rattled the back of the net to shake Birmingham’s confidence.

1 – 0 to City.

City kept pressing Birmingham with a series of counter attacks resulting in a number of corners but the opponents replied on the 15th minute mark. Gordon Astall poked a loose ball to Eddy Brown who suddenly felt optimistic and fired a powerful inbound shot which took a deflection off a City defender into the path of Welsh international inside‑forward Noel Kinsey. He fired home through Trautmann’s far post.

1 – 1.

With the sudden blow, Birmingham gained momentum and kept the pressure on City for the remainder of the first half. Eddy Brown twice netted the ball but both times he was ruled offside. In the second half, City made some strategic changes in their play. They concentrated on a possession-based football that made their opponents chase the ball, while Ken Barnes maintained a high line of defence and started to play in a more advance role. The change of plan worked for them. Right after the hour mark, Bobby Johnstone and Jack Dyson struck twice to take the lead to 3 – 1 in City’s favour. Just when it looked like City were going to lift their third title, something unexpected happened. With 17 minutes remaining, Birmingham forward Peter Murphy outpaced City defender Dave Ewing and rushed into the 18 yards box. Trautmann made a decisive call and dived at the feet of Murphy to win the ball only to end up suffering a fatal collision as Murphy’s right knee hit Trautmann’s neck with a forceful blow. Trautmann was knocked unconscious. Referee Alf Bond stopped play immediately.

The save that could have cost Trautmann’s life (Source: www.theguardian.com)
The save that could have cost Trautmann’s life (Source: www.theguardian.com)

City trainer Laurie Barnett rushed on to the pitch and treatment continued for several minutes. Barnett knew that Trautmann would not be able to continue for the remaining part, hence full back Roy Little was chosen to keep the goal and while they would play with ten men as substitutes were not permitted in those days.

Manchester City trainer Laurie Barnett checks on the condition of groggy goalkeeper Bert Trautmann during the 1956 FA Cup Final against Birmingham (Source: www.whoateallthepies.tv)
Manchester City trainer Laurie Barnett checks on the condition of groggy goalkeeper Bert Trautmann during the 1956 FA Cup Final against Birmingham (Source: www.whoateallthepies.tv)

When it seemed that City’s hope for the silverware had been dealt a big challenge, Trautmann did something supernatural. He stood up on his feet dazed and unsteady and insisted on keeping goal until the final whistle. City defenders tried to clear the ball as far as possible whenever it came near the box but in spite of that, Trautmann had to make two further crucial saves from Eddy Brown and Peter Murphy to deny Birmingham from coming back into the match. One such save resulted in another collision with City defender Dave Ewing that left Trautmann in complete agony. After the final whistle, City registered their third FA Cup title, ending the two decade drought and with it, Bert Trautmann entered football folklore. As the players left the field, the crowd sang a chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow” as a tribute to Trautmann’s bravery.

Bert Trautmann is escorted to the touchline by his Manchester City teammates after injuring himself in the line of duty during the 1956 FA Cup Final against Birmingham City at Wembley (Source: www.whoateallthepies.tv)
Bert Trautmann is escorted to the touchline by his Manchester City teammates after injuring himself in the line of duty during the 1956 FA Cup Final against Birmingham City at Wembley (Source: www.whoateallthepies.tv)

Three days after the final, doctors at Manchester Royal Infirmary revealed that he had dislocated five vertebrae, 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 took a long time before coming back to the field again which resulted in him missing a large part of the 1956-57 season. Even after he regained his place in the starting XI, he lacked his confidence. The following 1957-58 season, City became the only English first division side till date to both score and concede 100 goals in a season. He could sense that he was not the same keeper he used to be but he didn’t give up. He slowly picked up the pieces and in 1960, he became the first German to be selected for the Football League, an honour compounded when he was awarded the captaincy.

 Manchester City after winning the 1956 FA Cup (Source: www.mcfc.com)
Manchester City after winning the 1956 FA Cup (Source: www.mcfc.com)

Being a football romantic, I’ve considered this question many times. How did it feel to be Bert Trautmann? A man having his hands stained with the blood of innocents. Should I detest him for his actions as a German soldier or should I respect him for the artist he was on the green field? Then Trautmann answered “I volunteered when I was 17,” he said. “People say ‘why?’, but when you are a young boy war seems like an adventure. Then, when you’re involved in fighting its very different, you see all the horrible things that happen, the death, the bodies, the scariness. You can’t control yourself. Your whole body is shaking and you’re making a mess in your pants.” He also recollected how England had changed him. “When people ask me about life, I say my education began when I got to England. I learnt about humanity, tolerance and forgiveness.” Bert Trautmann showed us the way of reforming ones character. Of course he made terrible mistakes in his life. Being a part of Hitler’s army that killed millions of innocent people, leaving behind Margaret Friar, his first wife while she was pregnant…they all seem unforgivable sins but we must remember that human beings tend to make mistakes and the greatest example of humanity is set only by learning from the mistakes and rectifying them. Trautmann did exactly the same. He became such an icon whom people followed, not only for his goalkeeping excellence but also for his humanist ideology. Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson, England international Gordon Banks, these are some of the names who had cited Trautmann as their inspiration. What’s interesting is that in order to come back to a normal life, he chose a lifeless object that over the ages had spread life into countless lives. Football.

In spite of being considered as one of the best goalkeepers of his era, he never got the opportunity to represent his homeland. He met with the German national coach Sepp Herberger in 1953 who explained that travel and political implications prevented him from selecting a player who was not readily available but he could consider including Trautmann if he were playing in a German league.

Bernhard Carl Trautmann played his testimonial match for Manchester City in 1964 where more than 47,000 people came to watch the master for the very last time.

Police struggle to get Bert Trautmann through the swarm of fans who mobbed him after his testimonial at Maine Road in 1964 (Source: www.whoateallthepies.tv)
Police struggle to get Bert Trautmann through the swarm of fans who mobbed him after his testimonial at Maine Road in 1964 (Source: www.whoateallthepies.tv)

After his retirement, he had hoped for the managerial role at Maine Road but he was left disappointed. An initial financial setback struck him but his love for the game never faded away. He started his managerial role from Stockport County. Later he went back to his homeland to manage Preußen Münster and Opel Rüsselsheim. Though he lacked silverware as a manager, his work caught the right attention and, subsequently, took him to managing Burma, Tanzania, Liberia, Pakistan and North Yemen. On 19th July, 2013, when Trautmann breathed his last, he didn’t have his Iron Cross with him, but had only the love of the people he earned through his transformed life in the green field.

There have only been two world-class goalkeepers. One was Lev Yashin, the other was the German boy who played in Manchester – Trautmann. Lev Ivanovich Yashin

References:

Britannian Fields – A Look into the Future and a Shame of the Present

Krishnendu Sanyal writes about St George’s Park national football centre, opened by the English Football Association in the hope of restructuring English football and the John Terry-Ashley Cole soap opera that has brought shame to English football

A step towards the future

The English national team, if you believe a few, are perennial underachievers and some will say they never even had the setup to be a top international team. The 1966 World Cup at home, was their last success on the international stage and they played some good football in Euro 1996, again held at home. Other than that, they have been a team who play mediocre football and get knocked out on quarter-final and semi-final stages of the big tournaments on penalties (mostly against Germany). The opening of St George’s Park (SGP) national football centre at Burton, on October 9, is a step in the right direction taken by the Football Association to wake English football up from its morbid state.
 
The national football centre was first discussed by the FA in 1975 and the land purchased in 2001 to build this state-of-the-art facility that the FA hopes, will bring out a new generation of English footballers who can bring success to a long suffering national team.

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Roy Hodgson, the current England manager, believes that the FA had its priorities wrong way round in concentration of the £757m revamp of the Wembley stadium before the national football centre. England needed a structure for its game before the New Wembley. Certainly, history will remark that the revamp of the national stadium sucked time, resources and energy of the FA, which could have been better utilised for the national football centre.

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The facilities at SGP are top-notch, including the best sports medicine and science centre in England, 12 full-sized pitches including one indoor, two Hilton hotels with 228 rooms between them, offices of the LMA (League Managers’ Association), the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) among others. Although, the FA admits that the hard work begins now and they need to make sure that it doesn’t become drainage of funds as the Wembley had. For that, they need to make sure that they maintain a steady flow of its own elite coaches but also other sports, who wish to use these facilities.

The FA has finally set up a facility that is consistent with their Future Game rhetoric.

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To make this new and exciting adventure work, FA needs full co-operation from some hostile factions. The FA’s new mantra of coaching the coaches will need to be tailored with the professional game’s elite player performance plan, under which the biggest clubs have invested millions into their own facilities to attract the best young players from around the British Isles.

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Although the FA is gleaming with joy in finally getting the facility out, they know that the facility’s effects on the broader English game will be felt in around a decade. While blowing the trumpet, the FA is playing for time. A cradle for English Football is ready, let us see what the future holds.

Terry and Cole have shamed England and Chelsea

Most public or private corporations would sack a leading figure who was found guilty of racism by an independent commission board as it brings unwanted filth on the corporation itself.

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John Terry was acquitted in a criminal trial at the Westminster magistrate’s court but the judge remarked that Terry’s defence was unlikely but he doesn’t have enough evidence for criminal conviction. The independent commission set up by the FA found him guilty of using racial language against a fellow professional. They concluded that Terry’s defence (that he was repeating Anton Ferdinand’s words) was “improbable, implausible and contrived“. They said there was “no credible evidence” for Terry’s defence.

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Suppose, a CEO of a big corporation was found guilty of saying, “You f***ing black c**t … f***ing knobhead!” to a competitor in public, by an independent commission, what will the corporation do?

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They will sack him.

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Chelsea has other questions to answer too. The independent commission detailed how Ashley Cole’s evidence evolved over time to further support Terry’s defence. The FA is accusing Cole (Terry’s principle witness) of lying in front of a commission. In his first statement to the FA, Cole had made no mention of the fact that he had heard Ferdinand using the word “black”. In a revised statement, he had the word inserted to corroborate with Terry’s defence.

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The club secretary, David Barnard, facilitated Ashley Cole’s change of evidence. The commission remarked that they had “very real concerns” on Barnard’s evidence and said that it was “materially defective”. This is a damning indictment of the club secretary. What would Chelsea do? What would any big corporation do?

The 7 Wonders of Football

Truth at times is painful, but let’s not avoid it: there’s an awful lot of bo***cks talked about football and this is not just a recent phenomenon. You could possibly trace it back to the first caveman who propelled a dinosaur turd between two mammoth tusks in the first rough approximation of football. The jubilant caveman might have turned round to his mate and uttered one of the unkillable shibboleths that have dogged the game since. “Did you see the way that turd picked up speed off the greasy surface?” he might have grunted.

In today’s world, we should do better, but unfortunately we don’t. Even in the 21st century we cling to half-truths, superstitions and inventions that have become the very fabric of the game. In a bid to stamp out the twaddle once and for all, here’s exploding some myths that stick to football like sherbet to a blanket.

Myth 7 | The wide open spaces provided by Wembley

Before the old place was abandoned, how many times did we hear that players turning out at the English national stadium would end up knackered after running around the ‘wide open spaces of Wembley’? Commentators made the pitch sound like the vast plain of the Serengeti, stretching away as far as the eye could see. Neither was it the biggest pitch in north London nor did it feature in the top 20 biggest playing areas in the country. Thank God, that old chestnut died with the rancid old stadium itself.

The Old Wembley Stadium

Myth 6 | George Best wasted his talent

Best was 29 when he left top-level football, so one can hardly say that his career was sawn off in its prime. He won a European Cup, two league titles, Player of the Year and European Player of the Year in 1968. He played 466 games for Manchester United, and scored 178 goals. On the international stage, it wasn’t his fault that he was Northern Irish. Not bad for a wastrel, actually.

George Best had a reputation as a wayward drinker and womanizer but he did his bit on the football pitch

Myth 5 | The ball gained pace off the greasy surface

Isaac Newton went through a good deal of trouble formulating his Three Laws of Motion, only to have his work thrown in his face by footballing ignorami. Newton pointed out, quite correctly that every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. The chancers who insist that footballs pinged across rain-sodden pitches fly increasingly quickly should bear two things in mind: first, the ball is expanding energy in the form of friction as it bumps over the ground, and second, what about gravity, for crying out loud?

Myth 4 | It’s harder when you are playing against 10 men

Jose Mourinho was at his cynical worst when he had said that he was making his team Real Madrid practise with 10 players before the El Clásico series in the latter half of the last season. However, neither he nor any other football manager ever chose to start a game a man down, at least there is no recorded instance. Still this is the hackneyed line spewed very often when a team has a man sent-off. If this was for real, you would imagine that if not Mourinho, some superior tactician would have kicked-off minus the 11th man, rather than wait on the whim of a referee to hand his side the advantage of having one player less than the other lot.

Myth 3 | Lionel Messi is not special without Xavi and Iniesta

First, let’s look at pure numbers. Out of the 53 goals that Messi had scored last season, only 7 were assisted by Xavi and Iniesta, and Messi himself had 24 assists. If you combine the last 2 seasons (and this season is no different either) then too Messi has more than two times the number of assists than Xavi and Iniesta combined. Then he scores an awful lot of solo goals. Although goals and assists aren’t everything in football, Messi makes a frightening number of passes during a game and breaks the opposition defense with his tireless runs. The Barcelona football team virtually revolves around Messi.

Messi, yet again, was the difference between the two sides in this year’s Spanish Super Cup Final

Myth 2 | There are no easy games in international football

Try telling that to Australia, 31-0 conquerors of American Samoa national football team in the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifying. Just two days before that, the Australian team had defeated Tonga 22-0. Those must have been fairly easy. In Europe, the only time you’d fear Liechtenstein is if someone asked you to spell it. Throw in the likes of Andorra, San Marino, Luxembourg, Faroe Islands and Malta, and you can see that there are plenty of simple games in international football. To say otherwise is providing lame managers with mealy-mouthed excuses.

Myth 1 | Pele scored over a thousand goals during his career

Of course, he did. When you factor in the goals he scored playing headers and volleys as a lad in the back streets of Sao Paulo, for his school teams, for the Cubs, in training with Santos and, most ludicrously of all, for New York Cosmos in the NASI. His final career tally is listed at 1282. True, he netted 77 in 92 games for Brazil, and hit over 200 for Santos in competitive games. However, should goals scored in non-competitive domestic games indeed be counted? I leave the readers to draw their own conclusions.

                                                                                                                                                           

Indranath Mukherjee loves football and hates myths. He can be followed on twitter @indranath