Escape to victory, or rather Hungary!

Craig Scott loves Escape to Victory. As in has “seen the film over 100 times and brought his girlfriend to Hungary to the stadium where the film was shot” loves Escape to Victory.

How did your love of Escape to Victory begin?

I can remember it very well, I was 9 or 10 years old and was having my lunch in my parents’ kitchen. My Mum came in and mentioned there was a film on television that she thought I’d enjoy (as I was a huge football fan). I took a chance and gave it a go. I think it was the shooting of the P.O.W. scene as he was trying to escape that really captured my attention, but I also vividly remember being transfixed at the scene where Stallone clings to the side of the German officers’ car to escape.

By the time the match scene arrived I felt as if I was actually there and I remember feeling quite tense. When the Germans scored their fourth goal I was distraught, I just couldn’t see a way for the Allies to come back (down to ten men, their best player off the pitch, the referee against them… it looked bad!) But, for me, one of the best scenes came in the underground tunnel when the team argued that “We can win” and, of course, Pele’s famous “Hatch, please Hatch, that game means a lot to us, you know that, we must go back…please…Hatch, if you run now, we lose more than a game, please Hatch”. And as for the rest of the game, well, we all know how that ends.

How many times have you seen it? Are any screenings particularly memorable?

Oh well, now for the embarrassing bit! I must have watched the whole film way over 100 times (in my defence, this has been over a 17 year period)! As for the match scene, ooooh… well I have played amateur football since my early teens and went through a stage in my teens and early twenties where I would watch the match scene before every match to give me inspiration (not that it ever did much for me on the pitch, but that may well be down to my lack of ability, ha ha.) So, bearing that in mind, I must have watched the match scene hundreds and hundreds of times (note that i haven’t actually given you a figure as it would just be shameful).

I think the best screening has to be the time my lovely girlfriend and I stayed in a room called the ‘Cinema suite’ at a wonderful hotel in Manchester. There was a large projector connected to a DVD player and I had the Victory DVD with me. That night was a special night for the both of us, but perhaps for very different reasons!

You traveled to Hungary to see where it all happened. Tell us a little about that trip.

Well, the thought of travelling to the very stadium where the match scene was filmed had always been a boyhood dream, but most boyhood dreams turn out to be not such good ideas by the time you earn enough money to even think about fulfilling them. For example, as a youngster I was convinced that when I was older I would buy a replica of K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider, but that doesn’t really have the same appeal now I’m 36 years old! However, visiting the MTK stadium in Hungary was a dream that stayed with me throughout the years so early in 2012 I decided that it was a ‘now or never’ year so if I was going to finally do it, that was the time.

My wonderful girlfriend was incredibly excited when I told her the news that we were going to travel to a European country for my birthday in August, slightly less excited when I blurted out that it was Hungary and even less excited when I ‘surprised’ her with the reason why it was Budapest. After her initial shock/disappointment/anger, and being the kind and considerate girlfriend she is, she came round to the idea and planned it meticulously.

Being as my Hungarian isn’t what it should be (and by that I mean my Hungarian is non-existent), I managed to get help to translate a brief email into Hungarian to send to the team that plays at the stadium in question, MTK Hungaria FC (also known as MTK Budapest). I briefly explained the reason for my forthcoming visit to their stadium. This did not get a reply so I gathered that, in the words of Russell Osman after Pele had to be helped from the pitch, “this aint gonna be easy“.

Undeterred, I travelled to Hungary and met the taxi driver that my girlfriend had organised to pick us up (after she thoroughly checking his credentials, of course). He turned out to be a wonderful man and his English was a lot better than my Hungarian. During the ride from the airport to our hotel I happened to mention the reason for my trip. Sandor (the taxi driver) broke out in to a confused smile and asked ‘Why?’. I explained to him my long term love affair with the film and that even if I could just see the stadium from the outside, that would be great.

Sandor did better than that. Upon our arrival he had a long chat with the reception staff (one old woman, occasionally glancing up from the well-worn desk) and we were waved in. He said that we could have access to the changing rooms and could walk around the pitch.

I suspect that the changing rooms we visited were the away changing rooms. The two reasons I think this are, firstly, the layout of the windows and doors don’t really fit with scene in the film and secondly, there was no hole in the communal bath with a tunnel leading through the underground (joke). Still, they may have changed one or two things after 32 years.

Then came the walk out through the tunnel on to the pitch… oh what a feeling!! Luckily for me there was no marching band playing the German national anthem, just a lovely green empty pitch. As I walked out on to the track beside the pitch I noticed Sandor was talking to one of the club’s masseurs. Sandor then came over with a big smile and said that I was allowed on to the pitch. Well, I didn’t need to be offered the opportunity a second time. I walked out on to where Pele was taken out of the game and then took an anti-clockwork walk around the pitch, taking photos as I walked. At one point I thought I could hear the crowd chanting ‘VICTOIREI! VICTOIREI!’… but perhaps that was just in my head.

It was interesting to see that the area of the stadium where the German and British officers sat has hardly changed at all, in fact the whole stadium showed little change. As I approached the goal where Hatch saved the penalty I couldn’t quite believe I was there. I stood in the goal for a while and took a look to where Baumann and Hatch would have stood for for their famous staredown. I also took a look at where the Allies escaped up the incline and through the gates behind Hatch’s goal. There are big blue solid gates there now, but it’s still recognisable. I continued my walk around the pitch, I went to stand where the little boy squeezed through the fence to pass the message ‘HALF TIME, HALF TIME’ to Hatch. Then I walked across the pitch and approached the scene of THAT bicycle kick. Without trying to sound too dramatic, I felt as if I was visiting a piece of football history (would I be stretching it to say film history?).

 

I had a walk around the goal and put myself in the position Hatch was when he conceded all four goals but then I repositioned myself to the spot where Luis Fernandez (Pele) scored the bicycle kick of all bicycle kicks and I honestly would have recreated the kick but for three small reasons:

  1. My girlfriend can’t cross the ball like Bobby Moore.
  2. Even if she could have, I doubt I would have exercised the kick properly.
  3. We didn’t have a football.

Strangely, the small building behind that goal where the German soldiers grudgingly changed the scoreboard was still there although it serves no purpose today.

I rounded off my walk with a visit to the stands where the (supposed) French crowd stood next to where the German and British officers sat so I could get an idea of what it must have felt like to watch the filming take place. Oh to have been there 32 years ago!

Then I made my way back to the tunnel to leave, but before I did, I took one last picture and one last look of the place I had dreamt about for the last 26 years… and then I walked away.

Sandor, my girlfriend and I were then invited to watch the MTK team train in preparation for their last game of the season the following day. It was good to watch them but part of me did want to say to them all “Do you realise that you get to play on the same pitch that Pele played on?

We returned to the MTK two days later to watch them play their final league match of the season. Unfortunately, they lost that game but were already promoted to the top tier in Hungary, so they had their presentation at the end of the match.

I then headed back to the UK a very, very happy man after having fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition. What a trip it was!

You were able to ask Werner Roth a few questions via email. What did he say?

Well I only asked Werner a few questions but his answer to my final question has forever changed the way that I view the last few minutes, and maybe it will for all the other ‘Victory’ fans out there:

CRAIG: Finally, the scene where you and Stallone stare at each other face to face is, for me, one of the best scenes in it, do you remember much about that? 

ROTH: I do remember it quite well. We talked about it quite a bit with John and I thought wouldn’t it be interesting if Baumann should by that scene have gone through a personal transition and let Hatch make the save. We did a few takes at John’s direction and he gave me my take and in the dailies he thought mine was best. Although I’m not sure anyone else got it. But we did and that’s what mattered. So in the end Baumann gave the win away.

Favorite character in the film?

Well, when I was a young boy it was Hatch but as my knowledge and appreciation of football grew it developed to be Pele… but I must say that after Werner Roth’s email, it has to be Baumann. He wasn’t so evil after all.

 

Thanks to Craig for this brilliant article which first appeared on http://www.kickingandscreening.com

If you too have a love of Escape to Victory, you can contact Craig via email ebaymail10@yahoo.co.uk