When England won the World Cup in 1966 it was probably the greatest sporting moment the country has ever witnessed; but the events that summer were oh-so-nearly overshadowed by the fact that the most famous trophy in football at the time went missing just months before the tournament began.
On March 20, 1966, the Jules Rimet trophy was taken from the Methodist Central Hall in London where it had been displayed at the Stanley Gibbons Stamp Exhibition in the build-up to the main event which was due to kick-off later that summer; leading to many red faces and sleepless nights for the FA.
Essentially the trophy’s appearance at the exhibition was a lavish PR stunt as the nation geared up to the World Cup being held in England for the first time in its history, but after what happened it’s probably little surprise that over 50 years on, it hasn’t hosted it since.
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In order for the trophy to make an appearance, a number of stringent security measures were put in place with FIFA President Stanley Rous understandably concerned about the most coveted prize in world sport making such a public appearance, and with good reason.
A locked glass case and round the clock security were hastily arranged but for some reason the guard who was to be stationed next to the cabinet had been given time off and when it was inspected that Sunday afternoon its valuable contents had gone.
Trying not to spark an international incident news of the theft was initially kept quiet as an internal enquiry was launched, while FA secretary Denis Follows asked a London based silversmith to make an exact replica of the trophy just in case the original was never found.
Such were the attempts to keep the theft secret even Stanley Rous himself remained in the dark, but it wasn’t long before rumours started doing the rounds in the press and a number of crackpot theories came to light as to where the World Cup might be.
There was even one audacious attempt to make a ransom demand for the return of the trophy as an anonymous letter demanded £15,000 for its safe return while a parcel which arrived at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge ground apparently contained part of the trophy.
This was little more than a hoax, however, with the prankster turning out to be a 46-year-old former soldier, who had served in the Second World War and who was eventually sentenced to two years in prison for demanding money with menaces.
And with it looking less and less likely that the World Cup would ever be found things took something of an unexpected twist a week later thanks to one man and his soon to be very famous dog.
On the night of March 27, David Corbett left his in South London home to use the phone box at the end of his road along with Pickles, a mongrel he had adopted as a puppy. Along the way, the black and white dog became distracted by a strange looking object which had been left on the pavement.
On further investigation, Corbett was amazed to find that the tightly wrapped object turned out to be the most sought-after item in the country if not the world at the time – the Jules Rimet trophy. “It was wrapped in tightly-bound newspaper and string, laying against my neighbour’s car wheel,” Corbett later explained.“ At the time the IRA were active, so I thought it was a bomb.”
“Then curiosity took hold “I tore a bit of the paper off the bottom and there was a plain disc. Then I tore around and there was Brazil, Germany, Uruguay. I ran back in and said to my wife: ‘I think I’ve found the World Cup!’”
He immediately took his find to Gypsy Hill police station in Crystal Palace but rather than being lauded as a hero he was amazed to find that he was now in the frame for the robbery as he was questioned by a team of detectives. “I wondered if I should’ve chucked it back in the road,” Corbett later told reporters.
His name was eventually cleared but the mystery surrounding the trophy’s disappearance was never solved; even so that didn’t prevent the man who discovered it, along with his trusted dog Pickles, becoming overnight superstars.
The duo featured on television shows and public events across the country and also received a cash reward. Pickles even landed himself a role as an extra in a film, “The Spy with a Cold Nose,” but was probably more impressed by the year-long supply of dog food he was given by a pet food supplier.
Probably the greatest honour the pair received was an invite to the gala dinner at the Kensington Hotel in London following England’s dramatic 4-2 extra-time win over West Germany in the final as the players who became national heroes that day clamoured to make a fuss of the doggy detective who found the trophy they had just won at Wembley.
Pickles sadly died a year later and was buried in the back garden of the home which owner David Corbett bought with the £3,000 reward he received for his most famous of finds, a fitting tribute to one of the most celebrated canines in the history of football.