For this blog I’ve reached back to a story of an unlikely underdog, Nazi Germany some awful Michael Caine acting and the fact Ipswich Town helped win World War II. I’m talking of course about Escape To Victory, the 1981 classic that practically every footy fan has watched at least once in their lifetime.
The film has everything. Brown envelopes, Rocky between the sticks and an over-head kick by a man who fronts erectile dysfunction adverts.
The film of course tells the story of how nasty Max Von Sydow (he’s an ex-German footballer with a passion for imprisoning anyone who’s not German, or maybe Austrian) comes up with the idea of playing a match between the Allies and their nemesis in a vain attempt to get away from the atrocities that surround them. For this he contacts Colby (played unfortunately by Michael Caine) and asks him to gather together a team worthy of facing the Germans. With transfers not really an option, Colby has to work with what he has in the camp. That consists of some over-the-hill ex-footballers, an American loudmouth (Sly Stallone), and Irishman (Kevin O Callaghan) and some traillist by the name of Pele.
So what a handy coincidence it is then than half the Ipswich Town squad have been captured by the Nazi’s and end up in the same prison camp!
Good old Ipswich Town. The Suffolk Club gave us managers like Alf Ramsey, Bobby Robson and basically won World War II.
With this amazing stroke of luck, Caine puts together a team destined to do battle with the nasty Germans in what would seem like a meaningless friendly.
However Stallone and the gang have different ideas and plan a daring escape, due to be pulled off at half-time when the resistance would dig a tunnel under their dressing room (which probably would have taken longer than the entire Second World War to actually complete) and flee to safety, leaving the Germans confused, no second half, and the Nazi army wanting to shoot Van Sydow for the idiot arranging the game in the first place!
Now this was pressure my friends.
You think things are bad here today? What was it like for Sly, Caine and the gang back in a POW Camp? Now although I’m a pessimist (look at life that way and things can only get better) but they lads didn’t know if they’d face a firing squad if they notched a win over the evil Germans.
Everything was going to plan in training until O’Callaghan has his arm broken (Luck of the Irish my arse) so that Stallone can play, enabling him to lead the escape at half-time. Everything is all set for one of the greatest games of football ever witnessed.
The Allies had an ageing Booby Moore, Mike Summerbee, Ardiles, Denya, Co Prins, Pele and a host of other former internationals. As it turns out Pele proves to be a handy option from the bench but I’m sure the ref would have had something to say about a man who was in a sling at half time entering the field of play.
Throw in Russell Osman and a John Walk who would run from Land’s End to John O Groats and still play 90 minutes of football the Allies had an outside chance. Paddy Power was giving 15/2 on a 1-0 win and Michael Caine being shot directly after the match, mainly for his acting.
With Sly Stallone in goal, Caine's men were always going to concede (unless Sly was allowed go all John Rambo on their ass) but with the talent they had further forward a high-scoring encounter was nailed on.
With the team they had it should have been a walk in the park for the Allies, but a combination of unbelievably biased refereeing and some joke goalkeeping from Rambo meant the goodies went 4-1 down to the baddies. The crowd were despondent, the Germans elated as cunning Max Von Sydow looked on from the stands with a brown envelope in his pocket for the ref after the game.
Facing an awful beating, several more goals (not to mention the P.O.W. camp) Sly decided it was time for action. When the going got tough – Sly ran down a tunnel under the dressing room swimming pool and made a dart for freedom. The Ipswich lads were having none of it!
The Allies, to their credit, opted to finish the match – bringing it back from 4-1 to just one goal with two efforts before the hour and with Pele (miraculously recovered) scoring an astonishing overhead kick (replayed 26 times by the movie's director) and with Rocky saving a penalty late on, they did a runner as the 1940s crowd, dressed in 1970s clothes (note to director), carried them to freedom. A bigger achievement was getting a draw with a team involving Michael Caine.
Soon after the war ended, The Allies won and half the Ipswich squad was released from the prison camp to resume trying to beat Norwich City twice a season. Even the nasty Laurie Sivell who had kept goal for the Germans was welcomed back to Portman Road with open arms after he admitted he’d let Ardiles score twice and said he could have saved Pele’s effort but for some mud in his eye.