Lt Col Geoffrey Rothband - the 100-year-old Manchester City fan who has witnessed it all over the years

The Second World War hero, who has been present for all seven league titles, recounts some of his favourite Manchester City memories

A 100-year-old Jewish Second World War hero who has witnessed all seven of Manchester City's league titles, claims the club's history does, in fact, pre-date the past few trophy-laden years.

What precisely does retired Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Rothband know about it? A fair bit, it turns out.

Rival supporters might insist that City’s eminence in English football only came about after the investment made since the purchase of the club by Abu Dhabi United Investment Group in 2008.

Pep Guardiola’s side this month set the seal on a fifth Premier League title for City in the 13 years since then, and they are looking forward to a first Champions League final now.

Clearly, it has been the most sustained spell of on-field success in the club’s history, but Col Rothband recalls there was plenty to savour in the old days, too.

As a 16-year-old boy, he was present when victory was sealed in City’s first ever league title triumph, back in 1936-37.

He was moved to tears in his seat at Wembley after watching City win the 1956 FA Cup final, which was the match in which goalkeeper – and former prisoner of war – Bert Trautmann broke his neck.

He was back at Wembley for the playoff final against Gillingham in 1999, as City escaped the third-tier of English football.

There is no denying the golden years of the recent past have been kind, too. He was at the Etihad Stadium for Sergio Aguero’s breath-taking injury-time winner against Queens Park Rangers, which sealed the league in 2012 – and received a visit at home by the same player a few years later.

Col Rothband is a fan of Aguero. But neither his mountain of goals for City, nor his generosity of spirit, have helped the Argentina striker to supplant his favourite player.

“Well Peter Doherty was, and always will be my favourite player, but there have been some great City players over the years,” he said.

“Roy Paul, who captained the FA Cup-winning team in 1956, was a great captain. At half time in that final, he put his foot up against the dressing room door, so no one else but the team could get in.

“He looked at every one of his team and said, ‘If you don’t go out there and win the Cup for me I will go round and knock all of your teeth in’. It did the trick and we won the Cup.

“Other great players that I have particularly enjoyed watching over the years are Colin Bell, David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, and Vincent Kompany.”

Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Rothband was in the stands when Sergio Aguero, right, scored the famous goal that won Manchester City their first Premier League title. Reuters
Lt Col Geoffrey Rothband was in the stands in 2012 when Sergio Aguero, right, scored the famous goal that won Manchester City their first Premier League title. Reuters

Doherty was one of the stars of the first league title win, 84 years ago, as a prolific goalscorer. "He was so full of enthusiasm, he would stand there and rub his hands together in excitement before kick-off,” Col Rothband remembers of Doherty.

“He was a great goal scorer and had a magnificent record. He would mesmerise the opposition. He was so good that they stood still as he went past them.”

Lt Col Rothband attended the game at Maine Road, where City clinched that first title, with a friend of his from Didsbury, a suburb of Manchester.

“We sat in the front row just behind the best seats in the main stand just on the halfway line,” he said. “I remember distinctly at the final whistle [his friend] Paul Clayton leapt in the air and shouted ‘Champions’. It was a marvellous feeling.

“I took my mother to a game once. When both sides were warming up just before kick off she turned to me and said, ‘What are those two men doing in green jerseys’? I think the fella who was sitting next to us is still laughing.”

Peter Doherty was, and always will be my favourite player, but there have been some great City players over the years

Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Rothband

Col Rothband had followed the lead of his mates at prep school and chosen City as his team, and was taken to his first match in 1932 by his uncle.

War was declared when he was 18, and he saw active service with the Lancashire Fusiliers in conflicts across the world, experiences that included the withdrawal from Dunkirk.

When football resumed after the war, City made a highly controversial signing. Trautmann had settled in England after being a prisoner of war, having previously been awarded the Iron Cross for bravery in battle as a German soldier.

The signing prompted an outcry by the club’s supporters. Fans gathered outside Maine Road, shouting “Nazi” and “war criminal”.

Public sentiment towards Trautmann altered partly after a prominent rabbi Alexander Altmann wrote an open letter to the Manchester Evening Chronicle, advocating that the new goalkeeper be given a chance to prove himself.

Lt Col Rothband’s own father had been the president of a synagogue in Manchester, and he said he was open-minded about the signing of Trautmann.

“I was neutral about him joining City and it didn’t take long for him to be a firm favourite as he was a very fine goalkeeper,” he said.

Geoffrey Rothband picks Manchester City's 1956 FA Cup triumph as one of his favourite memories. It was a match that saw German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, centre, play on despite breaking his neck. Trautmann, an Iron Cross recipient from Nazi Germany, was a controversial signing, but he became a "firm favourite as he was a very fine goalkeeper". Getty Images
Geoffrey Rothband picks Manchester City's 1956 FA Cup triumph as one of his favourite memories. It was a match that saw German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, centre, play on despite breaking his neck. Trautmann, an Iron Cross recipient from Nazi Germany, was a controversial signing, but he became a "firm favourite as he was a very fine goalkeeper". Getty Images

Trautmann’s most celebrated moment for City was the 1956 FA Cup final. He was injured with 17 minutes left after diving at the feet of a Birmingham City forward.

With no substitutes permitted, he played on and helped City win the trophy. Three days later it was discovered he had broken his neck.

That match is one of Lt Col Rothband’s fondest City memories, although not necessarily because of Trautmann – rather, because it helped salve the pain of defeat in the same fixture 12 months earlier.

“At the final whistle at the end of the FA Cup final in 1956 I slumped in my chair and burst into tears – I found it so emotional,” he said.

“I suppose the disappointment of losing to Newcastle United the year before had a lot to do with that.

“Also, I was with my son Nigel and daughter in law Nicole at both the Gillingham playoff final at Wembley in 1999, and at the Etihad for the Aguero goal against QPR that won us the Premier League in 2012.”

Updated: May 25, 2021 07:54 PM

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