For one Wigan family, the publicity around the film The Keeper which opened in cinemas at the weekend has brought back poignant memories of their father and grandfather.
The Keeper tells the incredible true story of Bert Trautmann, a German soldier and prisoner of war who, against a backdrop of British post-war protest, secures the position of goalkeeper at Manchester City, and in doing so becomes a footballing icon.
Struggling for acceptance by those who dismiss him as the enemy, Bert’s love for Margaret, an Englishwoman, carries him through and he wins over even his harshest opponents by winning the 1956 FA Cup Final, remarkably playing on with a broken neck to secure victory.
Norman Hickson has strong memories of seeing German keeper Bert Trautmann in action back in 1946, as a group of prisoners of war took on a local team on Spring View football field.
Trautmann had been captured during World War Two and held in a prisoner of war camp at Ashton.
Norman recalls the reception the Germans received. He said “The Germans didn’t get any applause or a pat on the back. They got booed everytime they got the ball.”
Despite only being seven when the game took place, he remembers it clearly as his father, Wilf, played against Trautmann at centre-half.
“I remember my father coming home and saying what a good keeper he was,” said Norman.
“He said they wouldn’t have scored if they were playing between now and Christmas,’ and those words are engraved in my brain.”
“At the time we didn’t know his name, he was just a prisoner of war, but he then went on to make his name at St Helens and Manchester City, and the rest is history.”
Norman’s father, who played for both Wigan and Stockport, didn’t just play against Trautmann, he also refereed him as well.
Wilf began to referee in 1947 and was then in charge of his first international game in 1954.
One of the biggest games Norman remembers his father officiating was the 1959 FA Cup semi-final between Norwich and Luton.
That week was a hectic one for Wilf as Norman recalls: “He had the semi-final on the Saturday in London and then the replay was on the Wednesday in Birmingham, but between that he did a game on the Monday up in Carlisle.”
“In those days we didn’t have a telephone or a car, so instead he got letters about the games and got the train,” he says.
“He knew the train timetable better than the staff, he used to get back at one in the morning and I used to pick him up on my motorbike.”
Something that stays fresh in the mind of Norman is seeing the Pathe news report about the game between Norwich and Luton at the Ritz Cinema in Wigan.
During Wilf’s time as a referee, he met a host of famous stars.
“I have photos with Stanley Matthews, singer Ruby Murray in Ireland from when refereed Ireland V Spain, the memorabilia and pictures we got are fascinating.”
Another top referee Mr Hickson senior worked with was Jim Finney.
“Finney was a personal friend,” says Norman.
“When he worked with dad on local games he would come and stay at ours and go home on the Sunday. One night he rang me up and said, ‘I suggest you buy the Brian Clough autobiography your dad is in it.’”
When Norman looked inside the book, there was his dad in the background of one of the pictures.
His pride of his father’s achievements is clear to see as he finds a letter from West Ham manager Ted Fenton, which reads: “Dear Mr Hickson. I felt following your two matches over Easter at Bristol and Upton Park, I want on behalf of the players and myself to congratulate you and your linesmen for the excellent way you controlled the game and your interpretation of the rules. Best of luck in the future.”
Before becoming a referee, Wilf Hickson, had been playing for a pound a week at Stockport and was set to move to Portsmouth in 1939, but the breakout of the war stopped this from happening and ‘the rest is history.’
The war also led to Bert Trautmann’s capture and eventual career in England.