Escape to Victory: The Ipswich footballers who made a cult classic

By Richard Haugh
BBC News, East

image copyrightAlamy

image caption“There was Kazimierz Deyna, Ardiles, Co Prins and everybody else,” says Russell Osman. “Crikey, there’s some terrific international players here”

Forty years in the past the worlds of movie and soccer collided, as superstars together with Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine joined forces with among the world’s finest gamers to inform the story of how a group of prisoners of warfare took on their Nazi captors.

Escape to Victory pulled collectively an enviable staff made up of stars together with World Cup winners Pele, Bobby Moore and Osvaldo Ardiles – and a number of other gamers from Ipswich Town.

Fans of the Suffolk membership, at present within the third tier of English soccer, take delight of their involvement and see it as one thing to be celebrated, together with the silverware they gained a number of a long time in the past.

But what do the gamers bear in mind of the expertise?

‘Out of our consolation zone’

Ipswich Town had been a drive to be reckoned with within the early Nineteen Eighties. They had gained the FA Cup in 1978 and continued to enhance, beneath the steerage of Sir Bobby Robson.

Two months earlier than Escape to Victory’s US launch on 31 July 1981, that they had lifted the Uefa Cup earlier than narrowly lacking out on the home league title.

“Bobby Robson called a meeting in the changing room one day and mentioned to the lads if anybody wasn’t doing anything in the summer and wanted to go and help in the making of this film we were free to do so,” says former Ipswich and England defender Russell Osman.

“I was single at the time, hadn’t got anything arranged or booked, so I said ‘Yeah, fine’.”

picture copyrightAlamy

picture captionLaurie Sivell says Pele was an unbelievable expertise and “a lovely man” who “would be doing keepy-ups while giving interviews”

Filming befell in Budapest throughout summer season 1980, and Osman’s teammates John Wark, Kevin Beattie, Laurie Sivell, Kevin O’Callaghan, Robin Turner and Paul Cooper additionally agreed to participate.

“As far as we knew then it was just a case of going out there and filming some background shots of people playing football, while the rest of the film was being shot,” Osman continues.

“It wasn’t until we got there that we realised it was a bit more involved than that.

“When we first received on the market they gave me a script and mentioned, ‘The character you are enjoying is Doug Clure.’

“The next morning I was face-to-face with Michael Caine, doing the dialogue that’s in the film.”

picture copyrightGetty Images

picture captionJohn Wark says it was enjoyable to share tales with the likes of Michael Caine and Bobby Moore each night throughout filming

The plot of Escape to Victory, or Victory because it was known as within the US, is pushed by Caine’s character, Colby, and his need to organize a soccer match between his fellow prisoners of warfare and a German staff.

When the Germans lastly agree to host the sport in a full stadium in Paris, the Allied prisoners see a excellent alternative to escape.

While fictional, the story is partly impressed by FC Start, a wartime Kiev aspect that took on and beat their Nazi occupiers.

Osman says Caine helped the footballers transition into momentary movie stars.

“We were all really out of our comfort zone, being in a position that we’d never been in before,” he says.

“I remember sitting in the hut in the prisoner of war camp where my first scene was going to be shot and Michael Caine walked in, and for about half an hour he just told stories and made everybody laugh.

“Then all of a sudden it was a case of ‘Ok, let’s get this within the can, Russell’…. bang, bang, bang and earlier than you knew it we had been doing it and it was completed.

“He was very, very good – a proper gentleman, a proper bloke.”

picture copyrightShutterstock

picture captionOsman (to the left of Sylvester Stallone) was given a key line within the movie because the gamers resolve not to escape at half-time

The Ipswich gamers have been much less forthcoming of their reward for Stallone, who had already made the primary two Rocky movies and was a main star.

Beattie, who died in 2018, wrote about his time on the movie in his 1998 autobiography, and his pleasure at successful $100 from Stallone by beating him at arm-wrestling.

Former Scotland worldwide Wark, who performed midfielder Arthur Hayes within the movie, laughs on the reminiscence.

“The Beat took him on and did him easy, as usual,” says Wark. “One take, bump, he was straight down.

“You would not take The Beat on – he would beat anyone.”

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Stallone’s character, Robert Hatch, spends much of the film trying to convince Colby that he should be part of the Allied team, but these pleas fall on deaf ears until it becomes clear that he is a pivotal part of the planned escape.

And so the unfancied American joins the team, at the expense of O’Callaghan’s character, who has to have his arm broken to make the switch seem plausible.

Wark says being a goalkeeper didn’t come naturally to Stallone.

“When he was a goalkeeper he mentioned to the director ‘Can I rating the successful objective?’, and we would say ‘You’re the goalkeeper!’.

“In the end they make him a hero by saving a penalty, but when we were doing rehearsals it took him about six takes before he could even get near one.

“We’d be chipping balls in and he was meant to save them, however he did not know what to do.”

image copyrightAlamy

image captionStallone and Pele lined up in the same team in the film

Sivell, a goalkeeper with Ipswich, offered Stallone some help.

“I gave him a lesson at one level,” he says. “He’d choose the ball up and bounce it round like a basketball participant – I anticipated him to try to dunk it within the objective.”

Wark describes the filming as being the “finest 5 weeks” of his life, and talks fondly of nightly “drinks and meals with superstars”.

He, too, had some lines of dialogue, but was in for a surprise when the time came to watch Escape to Victory in the cinema.

“I used to be on the premiere on the Gaumont in Ipswich with a few of the gamers – these who had been in it and others,” the Glaswegian says.

“I used to be sitting beside Alan Brazil and Eric Gates and I am going to them ‘Right lads, that is me, I’m going to be talking my two traces.’

“I walk in and bloody hell, that’s not my voice – that’s an Edinburgh accent! They were laughing their heads off.

“Even now some individuals do not perceive me. It was embarrassing, however I believed it was fairly humorous.”

Wark’s discovery that his voice had been dubbed was not the only disappointment for the Ipswich players.

Sivell says he was initially meant to have the goalkeeper role played by O’Callaghan, a winger for Ipswich, but “my voice was very gruff again then”.

“So I used to be relegated to the German goalkeeper,” he says. “I had blonde hair again then so I in all probability fitted in with the Aryan look they had been going for.”

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionOscar-winner John Huston was credited with trusting the footballers to dictate the on-field action

As with the footballing and acting talent, Escape to Victory had an A-lister for a director.

John Huston won the best director Oscar in 1949 for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and other career highlights include The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon and Annie.

Osman, Wark and Sivell all credit Huston with making a film that portrays a realistic football match, something that other movies have struggled to achieve.

But Osman remembers a dispute as to how the “soccer” match would be filmed, with the cast of international players finally having an influence on proceedings.

“I believe Bobby Moore, Mike Summerbee, Pele and Werner Roth had a assembly with John Huston and principally mentioned ‘We’ll inform you what to do and the way to do it, you simply be sure to’ve received the cameras there’,” he says.

image copyrightAlamy

image caption“It’s not a dangerous staff”, says John Wark (back row, third from right). “I believe we would battle if we saved Stallone in objective.”

Locals were invited to attend the match and were then shuffled around the ground at various points to give the impression the stadium was full.

As the film reaches its climax, the action cuts between the match and scenes from beneath the stadium, where a tunnel is being dug so the players can escape at half-time.

The Allies walk off the field demoralised by a 4-1 drubbing in the first 45 minutes, but their spirits are lifted as they see their rescuers break through the bottom of a shared bath.

As the players head towards the tunnel – and freedom – it is Osman’s character who speaks up.

“I do not need to return – we will win this,” he says, galvanising the Allies, who decide to return to the pitch rather than making a run for it.

“I had a few good traces in it,” says Osman. “That was a bonus for me amongst all the pieces else – other than simply the enjoying, my traces weren’t doctored or minimize or something.”

They think it’s all over…

The second half sees the Allies take the initiative and fight back to just a one-goal deficit.

And then, in a moment that will go on to define the rest of his life, Osman pounces on the ball as it rebounds off a post and taps home to seal a famous 4-4 draw.

“It was unbelievable,” says Osman. “The ball comes again off the put up and I’m given offside.

“It would have been nice to have been credited with the goal, as I didn’t score than many from centre half, but it’s just one of those things.”

Instead, it is Pele who grabs the leveller, with an overhead kick that’s so good viewers get to watch it a number of occasions in gradual movement. Even the German officers get on their ft to applaud his athleticism.

“We did it a few times until we could get it right,” says Sivell, who additionally will get the slow-motion therapy from what was a high-tech piece of kit again then, as he dives to try to cease the ball from entering into.

In a reference to a breakfast cereal advert – wherein a ‘keeper journeys and falls on his face as he tries to save a shot – he says: “I tried to save it – it wouldn’t have looked very good if I did a Weetabix dive to let it in. It had to look realistic.”

picture copyrightRussell Osman

picture captionRussell Osman, pictured sporting a T-shirt marking the fortieth anniversary and in entrance of a photograph signed by Pele, nonetheless has souvenirs from the movie

Escape to Victory stays a common fixture on TV, and usually coincides with elevated exercise on Wark’s cellphone.

“To this day I get calls from friends and family saying ‘You’re on the telly again’, and I’m like ‘What is it, Crimewatch?’ he says.

“The quantity of occasions individuals come up to me in Tesco or Asda and say that I used to be in it – I’ve to remind them about my soccer profession.

“I’m just proud to have been in it. It’s good for Ipswich because they had so many players in this famous movie, and it’s good for Ipswich, the town itself.”

It has beforehand been reported that the Ipswich gamers obtained £6,000 every for his or her work on the movie. Sivell says he cannot bear in mind the precise determine however “we all knew it was much less than everyone else was getting”.

Both he and Wark can bear in mind a group of gamers elevating the difficulty with producer Freddie Fields, within the hope of getting a greater slice of the pie.

“I went up to his hotel room,” recollects Wark. “Speaking on behalf of Ipswich Town, I said ‘I think we should get more money or royalties or we’re seriously thinking of leaving.’

His request was turned down.

“I had to return to the lads and say ‘We’re staying.’ But think about if we would received royalties.”

‘It’s nice it became an iconic movie’

After filming was completed Wark kept hold of his Allied shirt and “shorts that went down to the knees”, but later gave them to charity.

Sivell still has his German goalkeeper shirt tucked safely away, along with a signed script.

image copyrightLaurie Sivell

image captionPele and other members of the cast signed the script that Sivell has kept

Osman, meanwhile, has an enviable collection including the Allied kit, boots, a signed ball and a director’s chair.

“It’s good to have one thing which you can grasp on to,” he says. “And it is good that the movie has was a little bit of an iconic film.

“In a way it fills a nice part of that era – the side I played with between 1980 and 1982.

“We gained the Uefa Cup, got here runners-up within the league two years working and did Escape to Victory – a hell of a lot crammed into this three-year interval.

“I look back and I think ‘what a good decision I made to go out and do it’.”

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