Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

The Real-Life Escape to Victory

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

The Real-Life Escape to Victory

Article excerpt

Byline: NOSTALGIA DAVE MORTON recalls the people and places of the North East EMAIL: david.morton.editorial@ncjmedia.co.uk TELEPHONE: 0191 2016437 WRITE TO: Dave Morton, ncjMedia, Eldon Court, Percy Street, Newcastle, NE1 7JB. @DaveSMorton Newcastle Chronicle - History Photosales - 01640 683 902

DURING the First World War, several of Britain's best footballers were interned in a brutal prison camp at Ruhleben, near Berlin. It may sound like the plot of popular bank holiday afternoon movie Escape to Victory, but this is a reallife story of footballing prisoners of war, as revealed in a new book.

The book, The Ruhleben Football Association by Tyneside author Paul Brown, tells the story of how the prisoners played football to survive, and how two of them used it to escape.

Among the prisoners were Steve Bloomer, the prolific England, Derby and Middlesbrough striker widely regarded as the best player of his generation, and Edwin Dutton, a German international formerly of Newcastle United.

Bloomer was the coach and Dutton was a player at the Berlin Britannia club in 1914 when the war broke out and British nationals of fighting age were rounded up and interned.

"Ruhleben was a former horse racing track, and the conditions were appalling, with around 4,500 men packed into 11 filthy stables," says Paul. "It was freezing cold, there wasn't enough food, and the guards were cruel. It was a desperate situation and the prisoners needed something to occupy their minds and keep them warm and active. There were eight professional footballers in Ruhleben, plus lots of amateurs, so it's no surprise that they started playing football."

Bloomer and the other footballers - including England internationals Fred Pentland and Sam Wolstenholme and Scotland international John Cameron - bartered for balls, marked out pitches, and formed the Ruhleben Football Association, organising league and cup competitions involving hundreds of players and watched by thousands of spectators. One of the footballers, Everton's Wattie Campbell, said, "Football kept us alive. …

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