Action Replay (part 1)


Back in 2010 I had managed to convince the people who were responsible for the matchday programme at my beloved Heart of Midlothian Football Club to give me a regular column.  What I know about football could be comfortably squeezed onto the back of a postage stamp so my scribblings focused on something I did know about; films.  My pitch was that I would write a “review” of a film that featured, no matter how tenuously, a link to football.

Here then, for your delight, is the first of those articles from the 14th August, 2010 when Hearts played host to St Johnstone in a three ‘o’ clock kick off at Tynecastle.

In a new series for the Matchday Programme, Paul Laird reviews some of the sporting films which have scored well with movie fans.  Here he looks at that old classic, Escape to Victory.

Football supporters are a fickle bunch.

Let’s not kid ourselves…most of us could start an argument in an empty room.

Even if we support the same side there are seldom things that we can all agree upon; the manager should have done this, this player is great, that player isn’t so great but there are things that unite us all.  Things that bring us together.  Things that remind us that we are all brothers in footballing arms regardless of our differences.

I’m talking about “Escape to Victory”.

Surely there isn’t one among us who doesn’t love it?

A film that transcends the artificial borders of race, gender and sexuality and that brings us all around the table to break bread…OK, so I might be over-egging the pudding a bit here but come on, it’s a cracking football film for loads of reasons.

The plot is simple as a group of POW’s are summoned to play against the German national side in Paris.  This provides the perfect cover for an audacious escape plan and the plan to give Adolf a good old punch on the hooter, what!

That really is it.

What makes “Escape to Victory” a bona fide classic for football fans is the amazing array of genuine footballing talent on display (mainly from the incredible Ipswich Town side of the era) and the much less talented actors hamming it up on and off the pitch.  Seriously just look at some of the players who lined up for the “allies” here; Pele, Bobby Moore, Ardiles and Scotland’s own John Wark!

The Jambos have a great tradition of great goalkeepers including recent number 1’s like Smith, Rousset, Niemi and Gordon but the man between the sticks here was from a different mould altogether.  Sylvester Stallone plays the part of Captain Robert Hatch, an American who has to join the team in order to effect his escape.

Taking on the role of the last kid in the playground to be picked and then stuck in goals, Stallone gives a performance that has been the blueprint for dodgy goalkeepers for an age…he is honking.  However, he does at least manage to pull off the big save in the match that really matters.

Acting legend Michael Caine plays British officer Captain John Colby who, according to his back story, played for West Ham before the war.  They say “war is Hell” and judging by the size of Caine as he lumbers around the pitch war must also be a place where portions at dinner time are massive!  Seriously, Caine may well have been the inspiration for the terracing classic “Who ate all the pies?” judging by his proportions here.

He is also involved in one of my favourite moments in the film when he is summoned to the bench by Pele (no, seriously, THAT Pele) who despite suffering a terrible injury tells him he must return to the action because he “Feels good” in a voice so smooth it would have made Barry White come over all peculiar.

Despite being directed by John Huston (who was also responsible for “The Asphalt Jungle”, “Prizzis Honor”, “The Man Who Would be King” and plenty of others) “Escape to Victory” is not cinema gold.  But what it is, is a football fans dream…it’s Saturday night, you’re heading home from The Diggers, there is nothing on the telly and the wife/girlfriend is out: this is the time for “Escape to Victory”.

It’s utter nonsense, the script is never going to win any awards, the acting is more wooden than the Trojan Horse and you have seen it dozens of times already BUT you get to see Pele, Ozzie Ardiles, John Wark, Bobby Moore and a host of other great players giving the Germans a good thrashing and you can enjoy Sylvester Stallone doing his best dodgy ‘keeper impersonation?


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