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Why my pal Bert Trautmann was undoubtedly in a league of his own

By Eddie McIlwaine

If actor David Kross wants to know anything about the German former Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, whom he is playing in a film currently being shot in Belfast, he should talk to me.

I knew the former paratrooper - he died aged 89 in 2013 - when he was manager of Stockport County during the mid-1960s.

I was based in Manchester and was intrigued by Bert and the stories he told me about his career with City - including how he broke his neck (and could have died) in a collision during the 1956 FA Cup Final at Wembley and continued to stay in goal for the last 17 minutes, unaware of how serious his injury was.

We used to meet up occasionally for coffee after he had taken training sessions down the road at Stockport.

Bert, whose English wife, Margaret, is being played in the movie by actress Freya Mavor, managed various clubs after leaving City before retiring to Spain.

Producer Chris Curling emphasises that the film, Trautmann, is about a reformed ex-member of the Hitler Youth who learned a different way from the Nazi ideology to which he was once devoted.

Trautmann was decorated as a German paratrooper before being taken prisoner on the Western Front by British forces as the Second World War drew to a close. He was held at Ashtown in Lancashire, where, on his release, he settled, turning down the chance to go home.

Bert was eventually discovered by Manchester City - and the rest is history.

In the beginning, City fans at Maine Road stadium were not impressed by this former Nazi playing for their club.

But his breathtaking performances between the posts soon won them over and he became their greatest star.

"It was difficult in the early days," he once told me. "But right from my time as a PoW, I had a good impression of Manchester and its people.

"My decision to stay in England when peace returned was the right one."

Marcus Rosenmuller, director of the film, spent a week chatting to Trautmann about his life and times at his home in Spain only months before Bert passed away.

Others in the cast of Trautmann, which will go on general release next year, include Dervla Kirwan, Angus Barnett and Gary Lewis.

Zara bringing her Swede music to Belfast

Swedish singer Zara Larsson, who will play Belfast's Waterfront Hall in October, is delighted to be making her first visit to Northern Ireland - and for a very special reason.

The young lady's debut album, So Good, was released on St Patrick's Day this year.

"St Patrick brought me luck," says Zara, whose CD is riding high in the top 20 of the UK charts and has produced hit singles like Lush Life, Never Forget You and Ain't My Fault.

The 19-year-old won the 2008 talent show Talang - the Swedish version of Britain's Got Talent - when she was only 10.

Her favourite song is the Celine Dion hit My Heart Will Go On, which she has covered.

Her younger sister, Hanna, is also a singer.

Zara's Belfast concert is on Sunday, October 15, and she is in Dublin the following night.

For one so young, she has outspoken views and comments about other showbusiness artists - some she admires and others she can't stand.

Gene and Jim ... two good spuds

It was on this very date, July 1, 19 years ago, that singer Gene Pitney was seated in my kitchen, talking to a farmer about the price of spuds here compared to back home in Connecticut.

Gene definitely wasn't 24 hours from Tulsa, as his big hit claims.

Here's how that event at my place happened. Pitney had flown into Aldergrove airport for a concert at the Waterfront, but promoter Jim Aiken, delayed in Belfast, couldn't get there to pick him up and asked me to do the honours.

Living within a stone's throw of Aldergrove, it was no trouble at all, and I brought Gene home to await Jim.

While we were chatting, farmer John dropped in with a bag of potatoes for the McIlwaines, and the conversation turned to comparing prices.

It was quite an afternoon, because it turned out that farmer John's favourite film was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (starring John Wayne and James Stewart).

So, this spud grower was delighted to discover that Gene had sung the theme song on the movie's soundtrack.

Alas, Gene Pitney and Jim Aiken are no longer with us, but I still savour the memories.

Dragon Peter digs a hole for himself

He's a multi-millionaire, an astute businessman and a popular figure on television programme Dragons' Den.

But Peter Jones (51) doesn't know what a latrine is.

In fact, he admitted on the show that he had never even heard the word - until now.

No wonder other Dragons, including Sonia Meaden, gasped in surprise. I was shocked, too, that Jones, who is so knowledgeable on most subjects, turned out to be ignorant about this simple word.

In case there is anyone out there who is just as lacking in information, let me enlighten you. A latrine is a toilet - sometimes just a trench in the earth in a camp, or simply a hole in the ground. Jones mustn't watch too many Western films, for John Wayne always found a latrine when he needed to spend a penny out in the Wild West.

Oh yes, Dragons' Den is that telly show in which budding entrepreneurs present their bright business ideas to the panel of experts, who can offer them financial assistance, or reject them out of hand.

How Keith's glorious hymns won fan in the heavens above

Hymn-lovers will be glad Keith Getty (42), who's just been awarded an OBE in the Birthday Honours, turned down my advice years ago that he should become a clergyman instead of a writer of heavenly lyrics.

He's the co-author of that great favourite In Christ Alone with Stuart Townsend. Down the years, Keith, from Lisburn, has written many other songs of praise. Fans include astronaut Captain Barry Wilmore , who tuned into Getty hymns when he was on the International Space Station.

I've known Keith since he was a teenager, and his wife Kristyn is a native of Glengormley. They have three young daughters and the family are now based in Nashville.

The reason Blind Date may not woo TV viewers this time around

A lot of things can change in 14 years, including the public attitude to Blind Date, last seen on the television in 2003.

In Cilla Black's time as host, it was looked upon as quite daring to send a boy and a girl off on a blind date. But that is no longer the case as Paul O'Grady and Melanie Sykes bring the show back.

Viewers don't get excited or worked up these days at young couples holding hands and disappearing over the horizon, usually to an exotic hotel to find out if they are the perfect match.

Which is why I can only predict that Blind Date 2017 is going to be a flop.

Besides, who can replace the late Cilla? O'Grady of the gravel-edged voice doesn't fit in at all.

Keep up with the Jones with a few of these clever puns

A lexophile is someone who has a love of words, so comedian Milton Jones who is coming to the Ulster Hall in April next year is definitely one.

This 53-year-old is a master of the one-liner and the pun.

Milton, who lives in London and is married with three children, will love these clever and humorous phrases that a friend has come up with.

  • To write with a broken pencil is pointless
  • A thief who stole a calendar got 12 months
  • The batteries were given out free of charge
  • A dentist and a manicurist got wed - they fought tooth and nail
  • A will is a dead giveaway
  • A boiled egg is hard to beat
  • With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.

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