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Football Film Thursdays: Escape to Victory


This week's Thursday football film is a real classic, 1981's Escape to Victory.

The plot of the film is that a team of Allied prisoners of war (POWs), coached and led by England Captain John Colby (Michael Caine), a professional footballer for West Ham United before the war, agree to play an exhibition match against a German team, only to find themselves involved in a German propaganda stunt.

So, Michael Caine is tasked by Nazi Major Karl Von Steiner (Max Von Sydow), to create a team from the POWs. Another POW, US Army Capt. Robert Hatch (Sylvester Stallone), on enlisted TDY to the Canadian Army, is not initially chosen, but eventually nags the reluctant Colby into letting him on the team as the team's trainer, as Hatch needs to be with the team to facilitate his upcoming escape attempt.

The team of the allied prisoners consisted of some of the best footballers ever. The bulk of the playing squad was made up of Ipswich Town players, most notably midfielder John Wark. In the 80's, even though it's hard to believe, Ipswich were one of the best football teams in Europe, and in the year the film came out, Ipswich, under the leadership of Sir Bobby Robson, won the UEFA cup.

Other footballers to join them were Mike Sumerbee, Osvaldo Ardiles and then World Cup winners Bobby Moore and Pele.


The film is based on the Soviet myth of the 'Death Match', a football match that supposedly took place during WWII between Dynamo Kiev players and German soldiers. The Ukrainians won, and were then subsequently shot. The truth is, many games were played during the war, and even though some players were killed by German soldiers, it wasn't directly linked to the football matches.

Believe it or not, Escape to Victory has some links to Bolton Wanderers, albeit very tenuous ones. Pele, once courted by the Bolton board to become manager, also played in Bolton in 1966, as the Brazilian World Cup squad were based in our beloved town. Here is a video of Pele and the Brazil squad facing Bolton at the White's former training ground.

So, if you want a watch a film where Rocky Balboa plays football with Bobby Moore and Pele, hear you go. It's no masterpiece, and a bit cheesy in parts, but a brilliant watch nonetheless.

Also, apparently, there may be a remake of Escape to Victory. What footballers/actors would you like to see in the modern edition?

Verdict - 10/10