BY MARK GODFREY – EDITOR
Trivia: Which English goalkeeper of the 1970s and 80s appeared for Germany in the 1940s?
The sharp-witted among you may know the answer.
Laurie Sivell was born in Lowestoft in 1951 and as a Suffolk boy, played virtually his entire career – barring a couple of loan appearances at Lincoln City – for Ipswich Town, from his debut in 1969 until 1984.
Lowestoft, while being the most easterly town in the United Kingdom, is most definitely not in Germany; so how did Sivell make his name playing for them several years before he was born?
Firstly, he did not play under his real name – he was known simply as Schmidt. And secondly, he was playing for a team that was a German Wehrmacht (army) select XI. Thirdly, and perhaps most obviously, the game in question was entirely fictional.
Escape to Victory – or simply Victory as it was known in the United States – is a 1981 film that depicts the story of a group of Allied POWs picked to play a German army team in Paris in a Nazi propaganda stunt. Starring Hollywood A-listers Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Max von Sydow, football luminaries such as Pelé, Bobby Moore and Ossie Ardiles were recruited to sprinkle stardust to the playing cast that relied heavily on the successful Ipswich Town team of the early 1980s.
Bobby Robson’s side provided John Wark, Russell Osman and Kevin O’Callaghan (in the unusual role of goalkeeper) for the Allies while Sivell was joined in the German team by Portman Road team mate and fellow bench warmer Robin Turner. Paul Cooper and Kevin Beattie stepped in for Stallone and Caine respectively during action scenes.
Sivell – who made 141 appearances for Ipswich in his 15 years there – had a virtually redundant first half in Paris’ Colombes Stadium (the match was actually filmed at the Hungária körúti stadion in Budapest) as the Wehrmacht, helped by some dubious refereeing, raced into a four-goal lead showing their captives little in the way of sportsmanlike spirit. Just before half time, however, ‘Schmidt’ had to pick the ball out of the net; Bobby Moore’s character Terry Brady giving the Allies some hope for a second half they were never meant to show up for. Their escape – with the help of the French resistance tunnelling into their dressing room – had been planned for half time but a spirited Russell Osman insists “we can win this” and they return to the pitch to make good their comeback.
Sivell, who at 5 feet 8 inches was small for a professional goalkeeper, subsequently had the Allies raining down on him from all angles. Carlos Rey (Ardiles) rounded him to make it 4-2 and then Paul Wolchek – played by former Poland captain and Manchester City midfielder Kazimierz Deyna – pounced on his initial save (again from Rey) to slam home the rebound and make it 4-3. All manner of action ensued before Pelé – who else? – stepped forward as the hero. His character – Trinidadian army corporal Luis Fernandez – had been subjected to brutal treatment by the Wehrmacht defenders leading to his early withdrawal from the game. It was purposefully reminiscent of his own experience during the 1966 World Cup in England; the image of him hunched in pain wrapped in a raincoat being escorted from the Goodison Park pitch remains an iconic one.
He returned to the field with minutes remaining to score a spectacular bicycle kick to earn the Allies a moral victory, if not an actual one, and their second opportunity to make their getaway as the jubilant French crowd spilled from the terraces and onto the field of play at the final whistle.
Laurie Sivell wasn’t the only lesser known real-life footballer to line up in this good versus evil clash.
The uncapped Danish striker Søren Lindsted played the Allies’ Erik Ball. His career in Denmark for Holbæk Boldklub and KB sandwiched spells abroad with FC Twente in the Netherlands (with whom he played at the time of filming) and Belgian clubs KFC Winterslag and RFC de Liège.
Paul Van Himst was a prolific Belgian striker of the 1960s and 70s both for the national team and his club, Anderlecht. He, like several of his Allied colleagues, had retired from playing professionally when Escape to Victory was filmed. Just a couple of years later, he guided Anderlecht to a UEFA Cup win and eight Belgian titles. He also managed his country at the 1994 World Cup finals.
Norwegian Hallvar Thoresen played Gunnar Hilsson. An accomplished international, Thoresen was an attacking midfielder of renown in Dutch football with FC Twente and PSV Eindhoven. As well as appearing in a Hollywood blockbuster, he scored the winning goal for Norway in their 1981 game with England which prompted the now famous “your boys took a hell of a beating” TV commentary by Bjørge Lillelien. Less notably, but certainly as interesting is that he finished his playing career with the Oslo-based club Frigg.
Co Prins – or Jacobus Theodorus Wilhelmus Prins to give him his wonderfully grand full name – was a Dutch striker whose best years were with Ajax in the early 1960s. In the movie, he played Pieter Van Beck and rightly carried the extra weight of a man in his early 40s and had the look of a younger, trimmer Peter Ustinov with his greying hair. Prins – who retired as a pro in 1974 – died of a heart attack in 1987 aged 49 whilst playing in a match in Antwerp, Belgium.
The ‘star’ of the German team was Baumann, and although not blond and Aryan god-like, he exuded the arrogance and superiority of the stereotypical Nazi officer. The role was filled by Werner Roth – whose name is about as Germanic as it gets. However, although he undoubtedly came from German stock, Roth was an American of Yugoslavian birth having emigrated to the US aged 8. His best years came with the star-studded New York Cosmos team of the 1970s North American Soccer League (NASL) where he played alongside World Cup winners Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and, of course, his Escape to Victory nemesis, Pelé.