Saturday, 13 July 2013

BLOG #109, WESTMINSTER ARMS, LONDON SW1





The curse of the Jules Rimet trophy...

Difficult to believe now. Nearly 50 years ago. 

The news that gripped the media. An expectant sporting nation, ready to host its first global football tournament in a few months time, held its breath. The World Cup had been stolen!
 
 
 
 
  
 
In March 1966, Westminster Central Hall staged an exhibition of rare postage stamps. What the philately is the deal with stamps, anyway? Both my older brothers were into this kind of thing but I couldn’t see the point then and nothing has changed in the intervening years. But I digress...


As part of the exhibition, the original, iconic World Cup trophy (Jules Rimet Trophy to give it its proper name) 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. Stanley Gibbons has a lot to answer for! True, the trophy was a major attraction and it was donated to the exhibition on the understanding it would be under constant guard at all times. It seems that no-one told the two uniformed and two plainclothes officers that!
 
You can guess what happened - in an unguarded moment the display cabinet had been 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.

Officers interviewed the guards and two maintenance workers. One of the churchgoers had also noticed a man and gave a different description. The story went public across the world over the next day. Police had begun to look for two potential suspects but the description the newspapers gave did not correspond to the either one of the men the witnesses had seen.

Cue the Flying Squad – no Regan and Carter in those days! The following day Joe Mears, the Chairman of the Football Association and Chelsea FC, received an anonymous 'phone call. The unknown man said that he would receive a parcel at Chelsea Football Club the next day. 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 FA should place a coded ad in the Personals Column of The Evening News. If they would follow the further instructions, they could get the trophy back by Friday. A ransom demand for £15,000! A mysterious clue sent to Joe Mears, chairman at the FA! The thick plottens!
 
 
One individual, Edward Betchley 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 the £15,000 ransom for the return of the nine-inch solid gold statue. Betchley claimed that someone he knew only as "The Pole" had offered him £500 to act as a middleman. Betchley 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.

A week later, Mr Corbett and his Jack Russell* dog, Pickles, were walking in the Beulah Hill area of south east London. Pickles started to sniff and scratch at a parcel that was lying under the hedge of Mr Corbett's 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.

Hurrah! My doggy hero! We were right in the Branston, Pickles...and no mistake!

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! You couldn’t make this up, could you? Admittedly his owner copped a £6,000 reward and the thief was never caught. Not much of thank you though, was it?
 
It gets worse, I’m afraid...
 
Pickles choked to death by snagging his lead on a fallen tree while chasing a cat in 1967.

Pickles – gone but not forgotten...


*The Jack Russell is a breed of dog associated with the Rev John Russell in the 19th century and not the England cricketer of the same name.
 
 
 
 
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