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Jacob Sweetman: Give the keeper some

The Sportsdesk leads a typically rambling tribute on behalf of the drummers of the world to Nadine Angerer, the German keeper who saved two penalties in the European Championships final and leading the side to their eighth title in nine attempts.

Image for Jacob Sweetman: Give the keeper some
Photo by Rikard Fröberg (Flickr CC)

A couple of years ago I met a guy who claimed to be Bert Trautmann’s grandson. I was pondering on this last week when the great old keeper finally shuffled off his goal line for the final time at the age of 90, spurring on a thousand tributes to the man who made it okay for the English to like the Germans again after the Second World War. Trautmann was different, they said at the time. He wasn’t like all the others, he changed his name to Bert from Bernhard, he married an English woman, Margaret, and he played on through to the end of the FA Cup Final with a broken neck. What an English trait, they said, to be so brave, so stoic. He wasn’t like your normal German.

Naturally this perception was cobblers. When Trautmann dug the garden he may have squeezed an extra couple of pounds of dirt onto his spade, but he was still just a guy digging the garden. It turned out that Germans are the same as the English. And, like the English, they are also suckers for a great goalkeeper – and Trautmann was an extraordinary keeper. I have got a thing for goalkeepers too; it comes from being a drummer. We have a lot in common with goalkeepers. We set the rhythm, we command from the back, silently getting on with our work while generously allowing the flash guys with the long hair and the diamond smiles and the girls throwing their knickers their way to do their thing at the front.

A team without a good keeper is as fucked as a band without a good drummer, and Bert Trautmann’s grandson obviously saw that in me. He approached as I was sitting happily by the canal reading, presumably, a book about either drummers or goalkeepers. He asked me for 60 cents to by a bottle of Sternburg with before noticing my butchering of the beautiful German language. “Ah, you are English,” he said without the need to punctuate the sentence with a question mark. My chronic inability to pronounce the letter “t” took care of that. “I am Bert Trautmann’s grandson.”

He even showed me his passport by way of proof (though it actually proved little – just that his surname was, indeed, Trautmann). As a begging method I have seen few better and ended up giving him a fiver to make up for the hundred or so times he must have tried that line without anyone knowing who the great old man was, their bemused looks merely saying that they had heard of Gary Lineker or Franz Beckenbauer, but, sorry, even that would only just stretch to 50 cents.

I was thinking about Bert Trautmann, and by proxy his grandson, on Sunday evening as Nadine Angerer made history when she saved two penalties in the final of the Women’s European Championships against Norway to lead her young and inexperienced side to another, yes another, victory. Germany’s eighth in the last nine tournaments. Angerer was the beating heart of the side when they needed her the most, when her young teammates needed someone to lean on, like a great drummer, she was right there behind them.

It is easy to be John Bonham, chugging out stultifying Stone Age rhythms with unsupple and unsubtle mallet hands. Bonham is the same as Walter Zenga, a man lauded by the many who know little, but lacking in the deft subtleties of mind and body needed to become a true great (though this is to do a huge disservice to the likes of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Giuseppe Bergomi, lumping them in with a bunch of lumpen, plagiaristic workhorses like Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones). But Angerer… Angerer is Al Jackson Jr., she is Philly Joe Jones, she is Mitch Mitchell. She is flexible, setting the tempo whilst always being prepared at a single twitch of the singer’s arse to take it up a notch or to sit tight and let the team do their thing.

In the 29th minute against Norway she stared down Trine Rönning as the defender placed the ball on the spot and jogged back to her mark. She had made her mind up, to dive to her left, but she knew enough to keep her eyes and her mind open to the infinite possibilities of the penalty kick. Rönning blasted it down the middle and Angerer didn’t bat an eyelid, halting her momentum, throwing a leg out desperately in her wake like an anchor. The ball cannoned away off her shin to safety and she forgot herself briefly, just for a second she was staring directly into the moshpit, her arm thrust upwards and she yelled to the skies.

Within seconds Nadine Angerer had retained her composure though, she kept that rhythm ticking over, because she would need it again. Anja Mittag had opened the scoring for the Germans, but remarkably the referee blew her whistle again, she pointed at the spot again and Angerer would have to do her thing, one more time. Again.

This time it was Solveig Gulbrandsen, she hit it higher than Rönning and more to the keeper’s left, with more pace too. Angerer kept moving this time, but still had to check her momentum a little, sticking out a granite wrist to parry the ball away. This time there was no yelp, there was no premature celebration because all the time she knew that the ball wasn’t clear, it was dropping in front of the goal still where the Norwegian strikers were desperate for one last chance to claw their way back into the tie. The fist in the air would come later, after the ball was cleared, after the final whistle, after she had lifted the cup surrounded by her adoring teammates who knew what she had done for them, and after she was voted the player of the tournament.

Nadine Angerer is a force of nature, she is a great goalkeeper and the toast of the country. On behalf of the drummers of the world, and an honorary Englishman in Bert Trautmann (and his grandson, too), I salute you. You are one of us. As James Brown so nearly once said: Give the ‘keeper some.