He started his career with VfL Husen 19 and SuS Kaiserau.
Then he left for Westfalia Herne. While there he played 18 times for the West Germany national football team. His next team was Borussia Dortmund. From 1963 to 1967 he played 81 times in the West German Bundesliga for Dortmund as well as 21 times for the West German National Football Team. He was superseded in the national team by Sepp Maier.
Tilkowski won the DFB-Pokal with Dortmund 1965 and the European Cup of National Cup-Winners in 1966.
He was honoured as German player of the year in 1965.
Tilkowski was a member of the World Cup teams of 1962 and 1966. In 1962 he was only the backup-keeper. Coach Herberger took the young Wolfgang Fahrian as number one.
In 1966, Tilkowski was the No. 1 goalkeeper of the West German team which lost the World Cup Final against England. He was the oldest player in the West German squad, celebrating his 31st birthday during the competition. He later took up coaching, taking charge of 1. FC Nürnberg, Werder Bremen and 1. FC Saarbrücken. In June 1959, he married Luise, they have two sons and one daughter.
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