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How many of the footballers from Escape to Victory can you really remember?

Still bored in between Christmas and new year? The 1981 classic starred a peculiar pick of footballers from around the world who bickered, partied and, erm… arm-wrestled their way through filming. By Nick Moore

1. Pele

“It took one take for Pele to score that overhead kick,” remembers John Wark about the most iconic strike in Escape to Victory. “For most of us, it would have taken 10 attempts – even that might not have been enough. He got it right first time and smashed it in. I suppose that’s why he’s Pele.”

The Brazilian maestro’s acting was less impeccable (witness him woodenly explaining why Stallone is a terrible footballer), but his soccer skills – he’d only retired from the New York Cosmos three years earlier – were still in place as he hoodwinked German defenders. His character, Luis Fernandez, famously made the game 4-4, and he also helped choreograph most of the action scenes.

2. John Wark

“I get asked about Escape to Victory more than I do about football,” former Liverpool, Ipswich and Scotland midfielder Wark once told FFT. “People aren’t really interested in anything else. But it was the best summer I ever had. Not everyone gets to play with Pele.” Wark portrayed Arthur Hayes, and added a Jack Nicholson-esque sneer with his trademark muzzy.


3. Ossie Ardiles

 Ossie already had a firm place in English hearts – he was three years into his stellar spell at Spurs when Escape to Victory was filmed – and his role as Carlos Rey added further affection. Rey bagged the second goal in the fateful final match against the Nazis, and the Argentine pulled off some frankly ridiculous skills during filming. “Pele and Bobby Moore had been retired four or five years by then, so I was much better than them,” he claims. “In fact, I carried them…”

 Great skill at 1:45

4. Bobby Moore

Moore had hung up his boots and replaced an impeccable playing career with a moribund management one by 1981 – he was gaffer of Hong Kong side Eastern Sports Club at the time of filming. And the Three Lions ledge, who played Terry Brady, has to step aside and let Michael Caine skipper the side, too. The World Cup-winning captain did get to open the scoring for the Allies, mind.

5. Russell Osman

Ipswich players made up a large contingent of the Escape to Victory extras, apparently due to someone in the film industry knowing Bobby Robson. Centre-back Osman played Doug Clure, and had trouble maintaining a straight face during tense scenes. “You’d look at somebody and end up laughing your head off,” he confessed.

 Training scene 1:50

6. Paul Cooper

Another Ipswich stalwart, Cooper minded the Portman Road net between 1974 and 1987. He was renowned for his penalty-saving prowess and helped coach Sly Stallone make his shoddy custodianship look realistic, as well as standing in for some action shots.


7. Kevin O’Callaghan

 “Try and make it a clean break, will ya?” Billed as ‘Unlucky Tony Lewis’, Ipswich and Ireland left-winger O’Callaghan had one of the most famous scenes in Escape to Victory: his arm was deliberately broken by Caine so that Stallone could take his place in nets.

8. Laurie Sivell

As a goalkeeper in real life, Ipswich’s Sivell was originally cast to play O’Callaghan’s role, but the dialect coach on set decided that his gravelly voice didn’t work on screen and he was put between the sticks for the Germans instead.


9. Kevin Beattie

 Hard-as-nails Ipswich centre-back Beattie left the set with quite a claim to fame. “I beat Sylvester Stallone in an arm wrestle,” he says. “First my right arm, and then my left. After that, he didn’t speak to me again. I admired him as Rocky but it didn’t work out.” Beattie also ‘played’ Michael Caine’s legs in the film, after the actor was described as “useless” at football by Ardiles.

Escape to Victory fetched box office takings of $27.5m

10. Mike Summerbee

 Recently retired forward Summerbee played Sid ‘Buzzer’ Harmor, and the former Manchester City man became firm friends with Michael Caine during filming. “He didn’t know what goalkeeping was,” he said about Stallone. “He was only in it to sell the film to the Americans. Being part of that was great fun, though. All the actors in it wanted to be footballers and all the footballers wanted to be actors.”


11. Co Prins

The Holland and Ajax forward starred as Pieter Von Beck, and his ample skill set – despite having been retired from the sport for six years – were used extensively during the action shots.


12. Werner Roth

The Yugoslavia-born defender was capped 15 times by the USA after emigrating, and like Pele had recently stopped playing for the New York Cosmos. He didn’t want to portray Germany captain Baumann at first (saying “no… he’s the bad guy”) but was persuaded by director John Huston. “He said: ‘I’ll give you the final scene, with Stallone’,” remembers Roth. “What can you say to that?”

13. Kazimierz Deyna

 Polish forward Denya was one of the first Eastern Europeans to ply his trade in England – he spent three decent seasons at Manchester City – and had just transferred to the San Diego Sockers when director John Huston gave him the Escape to Victory call-up. He played Paul Wolchek.

14. Hallvar Thoresen

Norwegian midfielder Thoreson had just joined PSV from Twente when he got the offer of a summer in Hungary fillming Escape to Victory – he played Allied schemer Gunnar Hilsson. Thoresen was a Gunner in real life too: he’s such a big Arsenal fan that he has a pub in Oslo called Highbury.

15. Soren Linsted

Danish striker Linsted, who represented Twente at the time of filming, played Eric Borg for the Allies. “Those Ipswich footballers were crazy,” he remembers of filming. “They had so many parties and turned up on set hungover almost every day. I remember the first night I arrived I was invited to Summerbee and Moore’s hotel room, where everyone was drinking. Especially Kazimierz Deyna. He loved his vodka. It was only when their wives showed up that they started to behave themselves.”

16. Paul van Himst

Nicknamed ‘Lawn’ back home in Belgium due to the amount of fouls committed on him, Van Himst was a highly skilful forward who won the league eight times with Anderlecht and became one of his international side’s top scorers. He played Michael Fileu.

“I’d never heard of John Huston,” he admitted later. “But the whole movie revolved around Pele. I was a right-back! Stallone was keen to score the winning goal, and it took a lot of patience to make him understand that this was not realistic for a goalkeeper.”



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