When The World Cup Was Stolen, Then Found By Pickles The Dog

By M@ Last edited 43 months ago
When The World Cup Was Stolen, Then Found By Pickles The Dog

1966 will forever be remembered by the English as the year we won the World Cup. What's often forgotten is that the trophy was stolen in the run up to the tournament... and then discovered in a bush by a dog called Pickles. Here's how the story was reported at the time.

20 March 1966: the trophy is stolen!

Image of the empty display case after the theft. From Birmingham Daily Post, 21 March 1966. With thanks to Trinity Mirror. All rights reserved. Found in the British Newspaper Archive.

Ahead of the 1966 World Cup — held, of course, in England — the Jules Rimet trophy was put on display in Methodist Central Hall in Westminster as a centrepiece for a stamp exhibition.

On 20 March, a thief somehow evaded six security guards, removed a padlock, prised open the cabinet and stole the cup in broad daylight. Police went on the hunt for a man in his late 30s 'with dark eyes who might also have a scar on his face'.

21 March: Student prank or professional heist?

While police searched for clues, various individuals phoned in to claim a hand in the robbery. "I don't want this to go any further," one male caller told the Press Association. He claimed the cup had been stolen by his mates as part of a rag stunt at the West Ham College of Technology (denied by the Union). Another caller, somewhat unconvincingly, offered to hand the trophy in to a town hall if £50 was given to charity. The most serious message was sent to Football Association boss Joe Mears. A package containing part of the trophy came with a demand for £15,000.

22 March: Finland is damned angry

The Football Association issued a statement to say that it "deeply regrets this most unfortunate incident, which inevitably brings discredit both to [itself] and the country". The international footballing community did not look favourably on the British bungling. A Brazilian football official described the theft as 'sacrilege' adding that it would never have happened in Brazil. Mr Erik von Frenckell, president of the Finnish Football Association said: "I'm damned angry".

23 March: Some unexpected people offer rewards

As the hunt for the missing cup intensified, various celebrities and organisations came forward to offer rewards. The comedian Tommy Trinder promised £1,000 to anyone who could return the cup to him personally. Walter Max, osteopath to many England players, ventured 150 guineas. The Gillette Safety Razor company promised £500. A further £4,000 from other firms awaited whoever could bring the cup back home. The eventual sum would reach £6,100. Meanwhile, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths gleefully suggested that a new cup be created.

27 March: Dog finds World Cup

26-year-old Thames lighterman David Corbett set out from his home on Beulah Hill, Upper Norwood completely oblivious that his dog, Pickles, was about to become an international celebrity. As he attempted to clip the lead around the dog's neck, little could he have imagined that 52 years later thousands of people would be reading this sentence about his mundane activity. But Pickles was about to find the World Cup.

The pair hadn't left their own front yard when the mongrel began sniffing at a curious package under a laurel bush. "I tore the paper off and saw a black base," Corbett later told the press, "I tore the top off and saw gold. That's how Pickles — bless him — and I found the World Cup."

It seems that the thief, in a panic that the police were onto him, had decided to abandon the trophy on the quiet residential street.

According to the Daily Mirror, Mr Corbett 'still flushed and beaming after his find said: "I've been wanting to go to some of the World Cup matches but couldn't afford it. Now it looks like I could buy as many as I like if I get the reward."'

28 March: Pickles gets some caviar and a medal

Still waiting for his reward, David Corbett decided to treat his dog to a plate of caviar. Unfortunately, the dog turned his nose up at the delicacy and instead went to romp in the garden. "You can't please everyone," said Mr Corbett, "I'll just have to get him a sackful of meaty bones." Meanwhile, the National Canine Defence League created a silver medal for the dog.

30 March: A battle for the reward money

Corbett and Pickles had to fight for their reward. Joe Mears, chair of the FA, had put in his own bid for the cash pot. Mears had spent "a very worrying week" following the £15,000 ransom demand, and believed he was entitled to some of the reward for his close work with the police. "Fancy him jumping on the bandwagon!," exclaimed Corbett. "He's a rich man. It's just not fair." Corbett would eventually receive about £5,000 of the reward money, and Mears dropped his claim after much public backlash.

April: The further adventures of Pickles

Following his incredible discovery, Pickles the mongrel went on to lead a life of gala luncheons and press calls. On 5 April, mutt and man were up in Birmingham to receive a special dog collar and statuette from Aston Villa skipper Phil Woosnam. The following day, 'the most famous animal in Britain' was in Coventry, opening a new zoo at the personal invitation of Jimmy Hill. The dog was treated to a lunch of roast beef, washed down with water from a champagne bucket. Numerous further engagements awaited the pair over the coming months, along with appearances on Blue Peter and Magpie. Pickles would even star alongside June Whitfield and Eric Sykes in the movie The Spy With The Cold Nose.

Pickles poses with Daliah Lavi and Laurence Harvey for a Daily Mirror photographer. (c) Trinity Mirror, all rights reserved. Found in the British Newspaper Archive.

Epilogue: elusive criminals and a sad end for Pickles

Nobody was ever convicted of stealing the trophy. An Edward Betchley was convicted of sending the threatening package to Joe Mears, but it was never clear if he was the thief or just the middleman, as he claimed. Pickles the dog died in 1967 after choking on his lead, aged just four or five. The Jules Rimet Cup was lifted by England at that summer's tournament. It was retired at the 1970 World Cup and retained by that year's winners, Brazil. The cup was stolen once again in 1983 and never recovered.

Information for this article was found in the British Newspaper Archive.

Last Updated 27 July 2020