Peter Schmeichel says his dad was blackmailed into becoming a Cold War spy

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Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel has revealed that his father was blackmailed into becoming a spy during the Cold War.

Schmeichel was born in Denmark in 1963 and went on to become one of his country’s greatest ever players, helping win the European Championship in 1992.

The goalkeeper also won five Premiership titles, three FA Cups and the Champions League with United.

Those facts will be well known for football fans, but Schmeichel’s family history may come as a surprise.

Schmeichel appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs this week where he spoke about how his Polish-born father Tolek Schmeichel made it to Denmark.

Tolek, who was a pianist, met Peter’s mother Inger in Poland in the late 19050s, but to move back to her native Denmark he was forced to cooperate with the then Communist Polish government.

“You have to think back to that time, the Cold War,” Schmeichel told host Lauren Laverne.

“If you had any contact with a westerner then they kept an eye on you.

“Once they realised that my father wanted to leave [Poland] and go to Denmark they were trying to force him.

“My father was a musician. He was educated in the music school in Poland. He is nothing other than a musician. But they wanted him to spy on Denmark. That was the condition for leaving Poland: 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.

“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.

“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, because obviously he was very low level. They put him in a prison cell 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.”

Schmeichel was then asked if he believed Tolek did much spying during his childhood.

“I really do think nothing,” he replied.

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“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 said.

“Once he hit Denmark his life was work, work, work.”

Schmeichel’s father, who became a Danish citizen in 1970, died aged 85, but his mother Inger is still alive and living in Copenhagen, where she regularly attends classical music concerts.

Schmeichel, 57, married former Playboy model Laura von Lindholm in Denmark in 2019.

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