Escape to Victory: The movie Pelé starred in with Sylvester Stallone
Apart from his displays out on the pitch, Pelé also left us with some iconic performances on the silver screen.
Anyone of a certain age who has spent at least one Christmas in England will be familiar with the cult classic Escape to Victory - a festive staple which most UK households have sat down to watch, post-dinner, probably more than once. Released it the summer of 1981, John Huston’s two-hour film tells the story of a group of Allied prisoners of war holed up at a Nazi POW camp, who pass the time away playing football.
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The film’s central characters are Captain John Colby, who was on the books at West Ham when war broke out, played by Michael Caine; Captain Robert Hatch, an American serving with the Canadian Army, who was captured at Dieppe during a commando raid behind enemy lines - he fancies himself as a goalkeeper, despite limited or no experience of the game. He is played by Sylvester Stallone, fresh from his role in Rocky.
Other cast members included professional footballers who were available as the production was filmed over the summer during the pre-season: Spurs’ Ossie Ardiles, John Wark, Russell Osman, Kevin O’Callaghan, Hallvar Thoresen, Paul Van Himst, Kazimierz Deyna, ex-City player Mike Summerbee and two legends of the game Bobby Moore and Pelé.
POWs plot escape
The daily kickabouts provide the POWs with the perfect distraction - while they are out kicking a ball around on a makeshift pitch, and unbeknownst to the German guards, their mates in the escape committee are busy hatching an elaborate plot with the help of the French Resistance.
An exhibition match between the prisoners and the German national team is arranged on the outskirts of Paris. Resistance fighters had successfully tunnelled their way into the POW dressing room with the idea that the prisoners would make a break for it, via a hole in the bath, at half-time.
But finding themselves 4-1 down at the interval, the prisoners decide instead, after a few minutes arguing, that it would be better to finish the match…
There are many unforgettable moments - Ardiles’ slow motion rainbow-flick and Pelé coming off the bench, despite carrying an injury, to score with a spectacular, acrobatic, overhead-kick to level the score with just three minutes to go - to the horror of all but one German officer in the stands, who enthusiastically applauds.
The Roy-of-the Rovers-style storyline and ending (Ardiles gives away a soft penalty in the last minute) is so far-fetched, it verges on the ludicrous, but for many, it remains a feelgood film which all the family can sit around and watch - perhaps the best football movie ever and Christmas just isn’t quite the same without it.