The Keeper, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, written by Michael J Schofield and Marcus H Rosenmüller, director Marcus H Rosenmüller.

The Keeper, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, written by Michael J Schofield and Marcus H Rosenmüller, director Marcus H Rosenmüller.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000zhk8/the-keeper

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bert_Trautmann

I usually check out late-night films to see if there are any worth watching. I wasn’t sure of The Keeper. Advertised as a biopic of Bert Trautmann, my first thoughts were it was something to do with music, and I probably wouldn’t like it. Before I pulled up the preview, I realised it might have something to do with goalkeeper, Bert Trautmann, (yeh, I know, it’s in the title) but I didn’t remember his name. My memories are as fragmentary as the bones in his neck. I couldn’t remember what team, but knew it was a post-war English team.

Celtic’s John Thompson died as a result of an accidental collision with Rangers player Sam English during an Old Firm match at Ibrox on 5th September 1931. But not many English players played in Scotland. Our best players usually went the other way, to play in England, where players were paid two or three times as much as a normal working man, down the pits. Example Jock Stein, Bill Shankly and Matt Busby.  The Celtic team that won the European Cup was famously made up of eleven players that lived with twelve miles of Glasgow. Bobby Lennox, being the furthest, living in Saltcoats. Even the quality street Celtic team that destroyed Leeds but lost the European Cup final to Feyenoord in 1970 was also home grown. We’d have probably won that game if instead of Evan Williams in goal we had Billy the Fish, or Rocky and Rambo combined in Sylvester Stallone who famously made the Nazis pay by not only saving everything flung at him in a match against the guards, but also sneaked out of the stadium, incognito, with Pele in  Escape to Victory.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Half_Times_in_Hell)

I can’t think of any other films about goalkeepers. Bernhard Carl ‘Bert’ Trautmann played for Manchester City from 1949 to 1964. He’s played by a fresh-faced David Kross in the film. Lots to work with here. But, basically, it’s a love story.  He falls in love with Margaret Friar (Freya Mavor).

The ‘meet-cute’ is he agrees to a wager. He’ll save penalties taken by other inmates in the prisoner of war camp in Lancashire between St Helens and Wigan, and if the taker scores he will give them a cigarette, if they miss, the inmate pays double. Margaret Friar watches him making save after save. She steps up to take a penalty. I expected him to let her score, but no. We know he’ll score with her later.

A few rudimentary obstacles stand in his way. Firstly, he’s interred and classified as a Nazi. Evidence of this is he won a handful of medals, including the prestigious Iron Cross. His past was later to surface, and crowd protest took place outside the Manchester City ground when he signed.  

The war ends, he can go back to his homeland. First, he’s got to win the heart of the number one babe. He’s a bit of help from her dad, Jack Friar (John Henshaw) an Arthur Daly type with ties to the camp and his own shop. He’s also manager of non-league St Helens. A team struggling and in a relegation battle. They have a goalkeeper, but you guessed it, he’s the type of keeper Celtic signed from Greece and couldn’t catch a cold.  Of course, Friar brings in Trautmann, ‘Bert’, to his new pals and he plays like Billy the Fish.

Bert, of course, has other fish to fry with Friar’s daughter. But she’s got a boyfriend. And her best pal, Betsy Walters (Chloe Harris) is snuggled up with the current, woeful, goalie. Ho-hum, kick up the park and he moves in with his boss. Only a blind goalie would miss what happened next.

How to deal with collective guilt and the Nazi murder of six million Jews? Bert had previous; he’d spent a few years on the Eastern Front, where a large part of the genocidal killing took place, arguably, more than took place in concentration camps.  His argument that he’d just followed orders had the familiar ring of an Eichmann before being hanged by Albert Pierrepoint.

Bert, being a good German, and not a Nazi, suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He suffers flashbacks of the boy he couldn’t save. Shot dead by a Nazi, who stole his leather football. The same boy turns up later in the film. A cosmic equaliser and forbearer of bad tidings. Hokum.

Bert wins over the Manchester City fans by his performances. He was simply an outstanding goalkeeper, and innovative in his use of flinging the ball out to a wing-half (as they were called in those days) to start attacks. Simple. You’re no longer a Nazi when your team keeps winning. In the same way, the current Manchester City team is sponsored by a Saudi regime that has committed mass murder and sponsored one of their citizens Osman Bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida, who helped plan bringing down the Twin Towers, the Taliban and most extremist Muslim groups that follow their brand of religion, but nobody seems to care. There’s some archive footage, as football was played then. Not only was it a black-and-white world, but seems in slow motion. Maybe we could send our Greek dud out on loan to 1950s Manchester. He’d fit in just great.   

Boris Pahor (2020) Necroplis. Translated by Michael Biggins, introduction by Alan Yentob.

With most of the world in lockdown now is perhaps a good time to spend reading about Boris Pahor in the land of the crematoria. Spare a thought for those in refugee camps and prisons. Necropolis is a story not about them, but about us, common humanity. Pahor writes about his life not in the past, but in the present and also the future, when he’ll be like so many of his comrades.  About the stripping away of citizenship until a person becomes a thing—a number. One object among many. Pahor doesn’t just implicate the Nazis. Or the Italian Fascist Party that sought to eradicate any signs of the Slovak culture in Trieste by burning down The Slovenian National Home and taking away their language and schools, forcing them to integrate, but only as second-class citizens that weren’t to be trusted. Pahor asks questions of us.

He was born an Austrio-Hungarian citizen, a victim of arson and pogroms, without moving his home became an Italian subject. Later he became subject to internment in the Nazi military industrial complex and death camps. The familiar names of Bergen-Belsen, Harzungen, Dachau, and the smaller and relatively unknown Natzweiler-Struthof. But it is here as a post-war-day visitor, a tourist, to the concentration camp located in the Vosges Mountains close to the Alsatian village of Natzwiller in France, near Stasbourgh, but neither French, Italian or German, a former ski resort, transformed into a place of death, like other camps, gallows and crematoria combined that Pahor has his epiphanies.  

Natzweiler-Struthof is a jumping off point for Pahor.  Primo Levi asks the rhetorical question, What is a Man? Pahor lived the answer.

‘Europeans, despite their high-flown phrases, are basically thoughtless and cowardly. They become accustomed to a comfortable existence. And now if they feel shame, they drown it out in an orgy of moralising.’  

Pahor accepts his survival was a fluke, he cannot properly explain. ‘An exception was made for me throughout my life. I am never weighed on the usual scales.’

 An injured finger and gift for languages got him a job inside as a medic. But his education was in humanity.

‘In the necropolises it did not matter what depth you worked in. Barbers shaved death, quartermasters dressed it, medics undressed it, registrars entered the dates of death after serial numbers, and in the end, they all, each of them, were sucked up the huge chimney.’

Pahor’s meditation on his past life and present circumstances is a reaffirmation and warning.

‘At best I could, I give testimony to the living about those who turned into bones before my eyes’.

The hungry days of Nazi night and fog are not in the past, but bleed into the present if we let it. You embrace an evil, when you allow it—like now?