Since there is no football going on due to the Coronavirus, I thought I would repost one of our entries from the old Weird IR site about football during unusual circumstances.
When I was young, I remember watching a movie called Escape to Victory in which Rocky, Pelé, and Michael Caine played a football match against the Nazis. Yes, the description sounds great, and the whole thing ended with a Great Escape-style breakout.
Like other war movies, this one bastardized a true story, made all the characters American or English, and had a happy ending. The story Escape to Victory was based on would have made for a better movie. In 1942, after the Nazis invaded and occupied Ukraine, players from the disbanded teams FC Dynamo Kiev and Lokomotiv Kiev were noticed playing on the weekends by German soldiers and were invited to play a series of matches against teams of German and Hungarian soldiers. The Ukrainians destroyed their opponents in every match, embarrassing the Germans enough that the Gestapo rounded up several of their players and sent them to labor camps, where several were put to death. The Soviets tweaked the story to make it more dramatic, portraying a climatic “Death Match” in which all of the Ukrainian players were immediately arrested following a match and soon after executed.
One famous football during wartime story that is used to illustrate the possibilities of international cooperation is that of the WW I Christmas Truce of 1914. As the story goes, British and German troops, facing each other in trenches with little action since the early fall, started singing Christmas carols to each other as the holiday approached. And then on Christmas Day, soldiers came out of their trenches, supposedly at various points along the long front, and engaged in gift-giving and impromptu football matches.
Below is a historical re-enactment of the Christmas Truce football match, courtesy of British comics Hale & Pace.
This last story doesn’t take place during wartime, but in North Korea, which is still technically at war with South Korea, so I guess it counts. During the last World Cup in South Africa, the late Great Leader Kim Jong Il famously became so incensed at his team’s poor performance in the tournament that he subjected the team upon their return to a public shaming. The coach received worse – he was expelled from the sport and sent to work on a building development.