My dad was blackmailed into becoming a double agent at the height of the Cold War, says ex-football star Peter Schmeichel
The father of Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel was blackmailed into becoming a double agent at the height of the Cold War, the former goalkeeper has revealed.
Polish-born Tolek Schmeichel had married the footballer’s mother Inger and wanted to start a new life in her native Denmark in the 1960s, but was told that would be allowed only if he agreed to operate as a spy for the then Communist Polish government.
Schmeichel tells today’s edition of Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4: ‘The condition for leaving Poland was that he would spy on Denmark and my father didn’t want to do that, but eventually he realised that if he didn’t agree he would never leave Poland, so he agreed and got sent out to Denmark via Berlin.’
He adds: ‘That was at the time they were building the [Berlin] Wall as well. So he experienced all that. He was completely paranoid and didn’t know what to do.’
Peter Schmeichel and Laura von Lindholm in October 2017
Shortly after arriving in Denmark in 1961 to be with his pregnant wife, Tolek gave himself up to the authorities, thinking that would be the end of his ordeal. Instead, the Danish government ordered him to work for them as a double agent.
Schmeichel, 57, tells presenter Lauren Laverne: ‘So what he did when he came to Denmark? Eventually, he reported himself.
‘They [the Danish] had no clue. They did not know what to do with this guy… they put him in a prison cell for only for a few days until they realised, ‘Well, we might be able to spy on Poland.’
‘He didn’t want to do that either but he agreed because he would get out and go and see his wife and hopefully be around for when his first child was being born. In a way he became a double spy, a double agent.’
The father of Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel was blackmailed into becoming a double agent at the height of the Cold War, the former goalkeeper has revealed
Schmeichel, known as the Great Dane by fans, won five Premiership titles, three FA Cups and the Champions League with Manchester United as well as the European Championship with Denmark in 1992.
He does not think his father would have been an effective spy.
‘I don’t know where he would have found out anything that would have been of interest for anybody, any service in Poland that they couldn’t find out themselves,’ he says. ‘Once he hit Denmark his life was work, work, work.’
His father, who became a Danish citizen in 1970, died aged 85, but mother Inger is still alive and living in Copenhagen. Schmeichel married former Playboy model Laura von Lindholm in Denmark in 2019.
- Desert Island Discs is on BBC Radio 4 today at 11am.