The Fatal Eleven

The Fatal Eleven ★★★

It was about twenty years ago that I read an article about what has become known as 'the death match' in some men's magazine; a football game between FC Start, a team of forced Ukrainian labourers made up of former players of clubs Dynamo Kiev and Lokomotive, and the team of the German Air Force ‘Flakelf’, to commemorate Hitler's birthday. The result was a 5-3 victory for the Ukrainian workers of the ‘3rd bakery unit’ - a result that the Nazis could not let go unpunished.

Back then, I had never heard of the death match, but I was more than familiar with the film this true story inspired; 1981's Escape to Victory, a rousing, somewhat silly but nonetheless enjoyable Boy's Own comic strip brought to life for the big screen featuring a cavalcade of stars from cinema and the football pitch including Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max Von Sydow, Pele and Bobby Moore. Like I say, that film is fun, but the real story is arguably more important and its ramifications more sobering. It's a story that needs to be told, and indeed has been in both Zoltán Fábri's 1961 movie Két félidő a pokolban (aka Two Half-Times in Hell) and, just last year, The Match from the father and son filmmakers Jakov and Dominik Sedlar and starring Franco Nero and Armand Assante, but neither of these fictional takes have reached the same levels of audience as a mainstream picture like Escape to Victory. The Fatal Eleven is a documentary examination of the events from filmmaker Claus Bredenbrock. It's somewhat slight at just 40-odd minutes and uses footage from Fábri's film to recreate the action on the pitch, alongside interviews with some of the players descendants and survivors of the Nazi occupation. It's a little dry, and I'm not sure if you wouldn't learn just as much from reading something like the article I read many moons ago, but it's available on Britbox and Apple TV and anything that gets this little bit of hidden history better known in the west is fine by me.