Saturday, 20 August 2011


Second pub of the day to depict a hanging scene on its sign - still this is York...

It is now 45 years since England won the 8th FIFA World Cup Final at the old Empire Stadium, Wembley. Geoff Hurst was the nation’s hero on that day by banging in a hat-trick in the 4-2 victory over West Germany (aet). A piece of sporting history...

For me though the real hero of the tournament emerged when an expectant sporting nation, ready to host its first global football tournament in a few months time, held its breath when the World Cup (Jules Rimet trophy) was stolen several months before the tournament was staged.

In March 1966, Westminster Central Hall  held an exhibition of rare postage stamps. As part of the exhibition, the original World Cup trophy was to be displayed for the 3 or four days exhibition duration. Preceding the tournament it was kept under tight security at FA HQ in Lancaster Gate. The trophy turned out to be a major attraction at the exhibition and it was donated on the strict understanding it would be under constant guard at all times. It seems, however that no-one had told the two uniformed and two plainclothes officers that! 

You can guess what happened - in an unguarded moment the display cabinet was forced open and the trophy taken. It was discovered missing around noon on the Sunday; earlier that morning a Methodist service had taken place in the Hall. No Methodists were suspects, however. The trophy was insured for £30,000; but melted down was worth no more than £3000. In fact when thief/thieves removed the cup from the "Sport with Stamps" display at the Stampex exhibition, stamps worth £3m were left behind. Clearly not philatelists, then!

Cue the Flying Squad – no Regan and Carter in those days, remember - long before the days of  The Sweeney! A ransom demand was made to Joe Mears the next day (21st March) the Chairman of the FA, in the form of an anonymous ‘phone call. The unknown man said that Mears would receive a parcel at Chelsea FC (he was chairman of the club also) the next day. In fact, the parcel was delivered to Mears' home. It contained the removable lining from the top of the trophy and a ransom note that demanded £15,000 in £1 and £5 notes. The letter stated that the FA should place a coded advertisement in the personal column of The London Evening News. If they would follow the further instructions, they could get the trophy back by the following Friday. Otherwise, or if the FA informed the police or the press, the thieves would melt the trophy down. Shortly afterwards Mears received another call – a man who identified himself as "Jackson" changed the instructions to £5 and £10 notes.

Despite these warnings, Mears contacted the police, met Detective Inspector Charles Buggy of the Flying Squad and gave the lining and the note to him. Police told Mears to place the advertisement as directed on 24th March, and contacted a bank that created a false ransom payment out of bundles of ordinary paper, with real money only at the top and bottom (that old chestnut!), that were placed in a suitcase. Two police officers were to act as Mears' assistants in handing the money over and went to Mears' home to wait for the next call. The call was duly received and a rendezvous arranged.

The officers attended the rendezvous and after botching the hand-over - in a complicated and farcical series of events in which neither the trophy nor the money changed hands - were forced to apprehend “Jackson” who was revealed to be Edward Bletchley. He was accused of the theft (he claimed to be an intermediary and stated he had been paid £500 for this) and was charged for attempting to blackmail Joe Mears, into paying a £15,000 ransom for the return of the nine-inch solid gold statue. Bletchley was known to the police as a petty thief and used car dealer (aren’t they the same thing?). He wasn’t prosecuted for the theft but served two years for blackmail and soon after his release died of emphysema. In the meantime the whereabouts of the trophy were still unknown.

A week later, Mr David Corbett and his mixed-breed collie dog, Pickles, were walking in the Beulah Hill area of south east London when Pickles started to sniff and scratch at a parcel that was lying under the hedge of a near-by house. It was wrapped in an old newspaper, tied with string. When he opened the parcel, Corbett recognized the trophy – it included the winner's names on the plinth – a dead giveaway! He handed the parcel to the police at the Gypsy Hill police station. Police later took Corbett and the trophy to Cannon Row police station where Harold Mayes of the FA identified the stolen item. Police announced the recovery of the trophy the next morning but retained the Cup as evidence until 18th April. They returned it to the FA before the start of the tournament.

And Pickles reward? A grateful nation certainly! Pickles was invited to the celebration banquet after England’s World Cup success and was allowed to lick the plates clean! It’s a dog’s life, after all... Admittedly his owner copped a £6,000 reward (over £170,000 in today’s money) and the thief was never caught. Not much of thank you though, was it?

Sadly this story does not have a happy ending...

Pickles choked to death by snagging his lead on a fallen tree while chasing a cat in 1967.

Pickles will go down in history as the only dog to tread the hallowed turf of the old Wembley when he went to be photographed with the West German team before the final.

He is buried in the garden of his former home in Station Road, Lingfield in West Sussex which Mr Corbett was able to buy with the help of the £6,000 reward.

When the country was in a pickle - deep in the Branston's - Pickles came to the rescue!

The Rook and Gaskill Inn
12 Lawrence Street
Tel: 01904 674067

1 comment:

  1. Trevor wrote: Enjoyed that one mate...more along these lines please


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