Stories

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

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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

His character Carlos Rey bagged the second goal in the fateful final match against the Nazis

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.

Sylvester Stallone, Bobby Moore, Michael Caine

Moore, Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine at the film's premiere

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.

Sylvester Stallone

Cooper taught Stallone the basics of goalkeeping