We all have seen the classic film “Escape to Victory“, where the dream team of Pelé, Bobby Moore, in the company with Sylverster Stallone and Michael Caine, manages to escape from prisoner-of-war camp during the football match against a German team composed by Nazi soldiers. However, few people know that the plot of this football classic is based on a true story.
After Adolf Hitler’s army had invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Nazi government of the zone did not want to look like cruel despots in the eyes of the local population, so they tried to create an illusion of a prosperous life by organizing cultural and sport events. Until that time football had become extremely popular in Eastern Europe, and one of the more successful teams in Ukraine was Dynamo Kiev. But after German invasion the national league had been abolished and the players were captured and sent in war camps as prisoners.
In the Spring of 1942, the former Dynamo goalkeeper Mykola Trusevych was released and, with the support of his boss at Bakery Number 3, began to look for his old team-mates. Trusevych found eight former Dynamo players, and, accompanied by three from rivals Lokomotiv Kiev, founded the local military team under the name F.C. Start. The several victories of the team had aroused German occupiers’ curiosity: indeed, the team had turned a spark of hope on for the zone’s citizens and Nazi authorities decided that a rematch would be played between Start and Flakelf, the Luftwaffe team already beaten by Start. This would be used as a propaganda tool for the Germans, Flakelf’s victory would have shown the German supremacy against the local team.
The match had been set in the Zenit Stadium in Kiev and refereed by an SS officer. The exact size of the crowd was unknown but it is said that the heavy police presence did not deter the people of Kiev coming out to support their team against the occupiers: this was not just a football match for them, it was a battle between Ukraine and Germany. Before the match the referee entered the Start dressing room and instructed the players to perform the Nazi salute before the match. The Start players refused, and instead gave their own slogan, as a demonstration of their indomitable strength.
The Start players were certainly aware that it was in their interest to lose the match. Nevertheless, at the end of the first half F.C. Start was in the lead with the result of 3-1. At the end of the game Start led 5-3 and the referee did not even allow the match to reach 90 minutes, trying to avoid further embarrassment for the Luftwaffe side.
There are numerous myths that surround the events that took place after the game, but it is thought that the team was broken up shortly after and the players were sent to various work camps.
Nowadays their bravery is remembered as a timeless and unique example of patriotism in sport.
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