We often hear stories about gadgets and money being stolen, but have you heard of trophies becoming the target of theft? Perhaps yes, as one of the most recent cases was of professional cyclist Geraint Thomas’ trophy that was stolen while it was on display at The Cycle Show in Birmingham. An equally bizarre incident happened more than 50 years ago.
The only difference is, Thomas lost his prestigious Tour de France trophy and the ancient heist involved the gold Jules Rimet trophy which was far more valuable. Moreover, the Cardiff cyclist received a replacement, while the latter award was found by none other than Pickles, a mixed breed collie – yup, you read that right, it was the man’s best friend who discovered the stolen piece.
It was just less than four months before the tournament when the World Cup trophy was safely transferred to the Westminster’s Central Hall in London in March 1966 for an exhibition. But on the 20th, only the second day of being showcased, it was stolen from its display. As for the security, there was a disparity among reports, with some saying the guards were on a break while others said that some of them were really old, whereas there are also reports that the security was too tight when the theft happened so it was almost impossible for it to be an outside job.
The Football Association, which was more than panicking after they were informed of the missing 12-inch statue, gave specific instructions when they lent the trophy, including one that says a guard should be manning the award and that it should be placed in a glass case. The organization was indeed very firm, and it’s pretty understandable – England was hosting the eighth World Cup.
These instructions were followed – well, almost. The stamp exhibition’s chairman, Cecil Richardson, explained that the security was tight during daylight and even added that there were two watchers, however, it wasn’t as strict when the exhibition was closed. Some say the thief took the trophy out of the case in broad daylight, managed to get past six guards, destroyed a padlock, and went away with it unnoticed.
Needless to say, a massive investigation was held, as police scrambled to find who might have an interest in the World Cup trophy when there could be more valuable items to take from the hall. A lot of callers claimed they had a hand on the matter, probably because rewards were in place, although there were no serious and convincing leads the authorities could find.
Coincidentally, the Football Association already tapped George Smith to create a replica of the lost trophy. Suddenly, a ransom note was addressed to Joe Mears, the then head of the organization. Unlike prank callers that were obviously dubious, this one sounded and looked the most real among all as a portion of the trophy was included along with the message.
It was signed by a certain “Jackson,” who requested for £15,000 in exchange for what had remained of the trophy. The deal was set, Mears should have the money by the 25th and the next day, the World Cup gold award would be sent to him. But unfortunately, the stress was too much for him to handle so he didn’t go to the intended place on the said date.
However, the detective handling the case went to meet Jackson, who didn’t suspect that the suitcase was filled with scrap newspapers. What he did notice was the van tagging along, to which he tried to make a run for it. Police caught up with him and found out he was Edward Betchley, who repeatedly denied having knowledge on the whereabouts of the trophy and explained he was just a middleman who was in talks with a certain “The Pole,” who allegedly paid him £500 to do what he did.
Pickles Saved the Day
Then on the 27th, what seemed like a miracle happened. Dave Corbett was walking his dog Pickles, which the master noticed was roaming around their neighbor’s car. As he was about to put his lead on, he noticed that the animal was sniffing something nearby – there, like a ray of sunshine lit the path, he saw something wrapped in the newspaper all the way to the top and was tied with a string.
There it is, the World Cup trophy, and Corbett immediately took it to the police station, where he was met with incredulity. Finally, when the detective was called on, he verified that it was indeed the missing item, but not before Corbett was questioned after instantly becoming the no. 1 suspect. After he was dismissed of any wrongdoing, he and particularly Pickles became international stars.
In one blink, Pickles became, not just a good boy, but also a hero. This recognition got the dog a medal from the National Canine Defence League, it was touted as the Dog of the Year, it traveled in other countries, and even became an actor, appearing in the film “The Spy with a Cold Nose.” His master, meanwhile, also earned from the sponsorships and everything else, amounting close to £5,000.