Football

The story of Pickles and the missing World Cup

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Only some heroes of 1996 have been immortalised (©GettyImages)
Only some heroes of 1996 have been immortalised (©GettyImages).

Imagine the scene in 2012. On the outskirts of Madrid, in the Museum of the Spanish National Football Team, sits the FIFA World Cup Trophy; or at least a replica of it.

 

Past Ricardo Zamora and Iker Casillas (as the first and latest goalkeepers of the national team, the so-called “guardians” of the game) whose images loom over the entrance to the building, housed in an elaborate glass casing on a royal red velvet, stepped, plinth sits the most valued prize in world football and one of the most, if not the most, iconic trophies in the world.

 

The Spanish, current holders of the trophy, arise one morning to find the trophy they won in Johannesburg against the Netherlands back in 2010 has been stolen in the dead of night.

 

Panic, despair and anger ensues as the symbol of a nation’s achievements evaporates into thin air, and a frantic man hunt using forensic evidence and police officers pouring over hundreds of hours of CCTV footage begins.

 

Back in 1966 however it was one man and his dog that did all the leg work after the Jules Rimet disappeared exactly 46 years on this very day.

 

David Corbett and his dog Pickles have worked their way into football folklore after an innocuous stroll around the streets of Norwood, south London turned into one of the most remarkable discoveries in living memory.

 

"I put the lead on Pickles and he went over to the neighbour's car," recalled Corbett in an interview back in 2006.

 

"Pickles drew my attention to a package, tightly bound in newspaper, lying by the front wheel.

 

“I picked it up and tore some paper and saw a woman holding a dish over her head, and disks with the words Germany, Uruguay, Brazil.

 

“I rushed inside to my wife. She was one of those anti-sport wives. But I said, "I've found the World Cup! I've found the World Cup!"'

 

The story goes that after the trophy was discovered, it was put under lock and key, before being awarded to Brazil for winning the World Cup tournament for a third time in 1970. From there, it stolen in 1983 never to be seen again.

 

Reports at the time suggested that the three men eventually found guilty of stealing it had melted it down into gold bars.

 

However behind the images of an unassuming man and his trusty companion stumbling upon the trophy 17 years before it finally went missing lies a story of intrigue and deception that leads some to believe that the original trophy is still in existence and closer to home that you might think.

 

Seven days before it was found by Pickles, on March 20 1966, just under eight miles away from where it was eventually discovered, the original World Cup trophy disappeared from an exhibition at Central Hall in Westminster.

 

With the World Cup due to be held in England three months later the trophy was being displayed alongside £3 million worth of stamps in a ‘sports with stamps’ exhibition.

 

At least two of the five guards assigned with keeping a watchful eye on the trophy were in the hall at the time it went missing while a church service was taking place in another part of the Methodist building. One, stationed next to the trophy, had taken the day off.

 

One guard, Frank Hudson, left the office he was resting in at around 11.25am to go to the toilet on the first-floor corridor near the exhibition area having checked on the trophy at less than half an hour earlier.

 

He later reported seeing a man by the public telephone near the toilets. When Hudson came out a few minutes later, the man was still there, using the telephone.

 

When the display case was next checked at 12.10pm, £30,000 trophy, equivalent to almost £500,000 in 2012, was gone.

 

The footballing world was up in arms. Brazil, winners of the 1958 and 1962 tournament and favourites to make it three victories in a row that year, were outraged, maintaining that such a theft would never happen in their country and describing it as ‘sacrilege’ - somewhat ironic given what happened in Rio de Janeiro just under two decades later.

 

The man charged with finding the trophy, DI Len Buggy, got the break he so desperately needed when a man using the name ‘Jackson’ contacted then Chelsea and F.A Chairman Joe Mears.

 

"There will be a parcel at Chelsea football club tomorrow. Follow the instructions inside,” Mears was told. Three days after the trophy had disappeared, on a Wednesday, a package arrived at Stamford Bridge containing part of the Jules Rimet statue and ransom note.

 

“Dear Joe Kno (sic) no doubt you view with very much concern the loss of the world cup...” it said.

 

"To me it is only so much scrap gold. If I don't hear from you by Thursday or Friday at the latest I assume its one for the POT.”

 

Jackson called to confirm the package had been received. "Give me £15,000 on Friday and the cup will arrive by cab on Saturday," he said.

 

The drop, on the Friday, was bugled. ‘Jackson’, revealed to be former war veteran and petty thief Edward Betchley, was spooked by what he correctly guessed was a police van waiting for him around the corner for him.

 

Betchley claimed to be a middle-man for an unknown mastermind when he was arrested and the trail went cold. A few days later, Corbett and Pickles came to the fore and found the trophy.

“I was suspect number one,” Corbett said in an interview with the Guardian. "I went into this bloody great incident room with twenty coppers taking calls. I heard one say, "We've just searched the Northern [Tube] line because someone said it was under seat number seven."

 

“They questioned me until 2.30 in the morning. I wondered if I should've chucked it back in the road. I was up at six the next day for work.”

 

The mystery of how the trophy found was abandoned in south London was never fully resolved, nor was the person, known only to Betchley as ‘The Pole’, behind the heist ever revealed.

 

The only man found in connection with the theft, Betchley, was eventually convicted of demanding money with menaces and with intent to steal, and he received concurrent sentences of two years in jail for each offence. He died a few years later after leaving prison.

 

Away from the investigation, Pickles was a instant national hero, even starring in a film. Invited to celebrate England’s World Cup win later that year, both Corbett and his trust friend were the centre of attention.

 

“I went in with Pickles under my arm and Bobby Charlton, all of them, picked him up,” he recalled.

 

After England’s historic triumph, Brazil would become the owner of the Jules Rimet Trophy, reward for their third tournament win in 1970, held in Mexico, it’s last known resting place before it disappeared forever.

 

However the story doesn’t end there. After the cup was returned in 1966, the FA gave it for safekeeping to its regular jeweller, George Bird.

 

Bird came to the conclusion that it was no longer safe to have the original trophy on display and in public. While FIFA said no to producing a replica the F.A commissioned Bird to do so anyway.

 

When England beat Germany 4-2 at Wembley, captain Bobby Moore was presented with the real trophy.

 

However the pictures showing England holding the coveted trophy aloft, on the balcony of the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington later was not the original but the replica, which had been switched while in the possession of England midfielder Nobby Stiles after the game.

 

A Wembley policeman, PC Peter Weston, had positioned himself near the changing rooms with Bird's replica. With the team celebrating inside, Weston pounced.

 

"Luckily the [real] trophy was near the entrance where Nobby [Stiles] was sitting," Weston told the Channel 4 documentary, ‘Who Stole the World Cup?’ . “I said to him, "I'll have that, you have this."

 

When it was time to turn the original Jules Rimet trophy over to FIFA, some experts on the story maintain the copy, made out of base metals, was turned over to FIFA and given to Brazil to display as reward for their three tournament victories.

 

When the ‘replica’ went up for auction in 1997 with an estimate of around £30,000, FIFA paid over £250,000 for it, much to the surprise of most observers, making it the most expensive item of football memorabilia sold.

 

In an article in the Financial Times, journalist Simon Kuper confirmed in conversation with FIFA that they believed it to be the original statue, thus explaining the high price paid for what was little more than a token of football history.

 

To their shock, the trophy they had spent over quarter of a million pounds on was discovered upon examination to be a cheap replica.

 

Back in south London, in the house that Corbett still lives in to this very day, the discoverer of the World Cup got a £3,000 reward for his find and Pickles became an emblem for the tournament before his death in 1973.

 

"My six-year-old had him on a choke lead," said Corbett. "He shot after a cat and pulled my son over, before disappearing. I looked for over an hour. Then, in the gardens behind my house I saw him up on a tree. His chain was around the branch. Pickles just hung there."

 

The final resting place of the Original 1930 Jules Rimet trophy is still unknown. It may well have been melted down by the three criminals convicted of stealing it from Rio de Janeiro, but tantalisingly, the husband of Edward Betchley’s daughter, Marie, leaves the story incomplete.

 

"I handled all my father-in-laws legal affairs at the time,” Marie’s husband John Stringer told Observer Sport in 2006. “And let me tell you, there is a twist that has yet to be revealed."

Topics:
Football
World Cup
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