Trio pen prestigious online biographies on sporting legends


The fascinating biographies of three legends of British sport have been added to the prestigious Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) by experts at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

Three historians from DMU’s renowned International Centre for Sports History and Culture (ICSHC) have written biographies of post-war footballer Bert Trautmann, broadcast commentator David Coleman and wrestler Mick McManus.

sports history biographies

Martin Polley, Neil Carter and Matthew Taylor

The three sporting legends are among 241 people who died in 2013 who have now been added to the vaunted online dictionary. Others include former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, novelists Doris Lessing and Iain Banks, and actor Peter O'Toole.

DMU sports historians Professor Matthew Taylor, Dr Neil Carter and Professor Martin Polley were invited to research and write the biographies for the three stars.

“Entries are for those who have passed away more than four years ago,” explained Prof Polley, director of the ICSHC.

“There’s a very strong link between the ODNB and DMU’s Sports History and History departments.

“The ODNB is so prestigious that when you get invited to contribute, it’s a case of drop everything else for this, but you do get six months to a year to work on each entry.”

Prof Polley wrote the entry on McManus, who was one of the leading stars of the professional wrestling circuit from the 1950s until his retirement in 1982 and was known affectionately as 'The Man You Love To Hate' and 'The Dulwich Destroyer'.

“We try to get in some anecdotes to bring each piece to life a bit,” added Prof Polley.

“Some entries can be quite controversial at times and at other times you have to add updates because of new information that has come to light.

“With Mick McManus I found out that he had a thing for collecting antique porcelain – that wasn’t something you would have expected!”


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Bremen-born footballer Trautmann came to Britain as a prisoner-of-war in 1945 and went on to play in goal for Manchester City more than 500 times.

“Trautmann is best known in popular memory now for the 1956 FA Cup Final, when he carried on playing after a shocking collision with a Birmingham City forward,” explained Prof Taylor.

“It was later revealed that Trautmann had actually broken his neck.

“As an expert on England and English football, he also acted as attaché for the West German team during the 1966 World Cup in England.

“When Trautmann won Footballer of the Year in 1956 he was both the first goalkeeper and the first foreign player to receive the honour.”

Sports broadcaster David Coleman covered 11 Olympic Games, eight Commonwealth Games, and six FIFA World Cups during his 40-year career.

Dr Carter said: “As the original anchor for Grandstand, Coleman was renowned for his attention to detail and especially his encyclopaedic knowledge when reading and interpreting the football results off the teleprinter on Saturday afternoons.

“His ability to know the implications of each result, for example, a team’s new position in the league and how many games since their last win, was impressive.

“He was a modernising broadcaster who represented the post-war meritocracy. Unlike his colleagues Coleman did not come from a public school and Oxbridge background, but was instead a product of the north.”

DMU historians have a long record of writing entries or serving as advisors for the ODNB, and its Editor, Professor Sir David Cannadine, said: “I am hugely grateful to the historians at the ICSHC for their enormous and continuing contributions.

“Their three latest entries bring the total number contributed by ICSHC historians to 99, more than from any other university department or centre of sports history.

“Since Martin and his colleagues are already working on the next batch of entries, the total will soon pass one hundred.  And from an ODNB perspective, that is cause for both gratitude and celebration.”

DMU students can access the full Oxford Dictionary of National Biography free through the university’s online library service.
Posted on Monday 6th March 2017

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