What a pickle: how England lost, found and won the World Cup in a single year

1966 was the year England won football's greatest prize – the FIFA World Cup. But it was also the year they lost it, quite literally, when it was stolen prior to the tournament. With the police stumped, it fell to man's best friend to save the day...

Photo of the display cabinet where the World Cup was stolen

In 1966, England managed to win and lose the FIFA World Cup in the same year. Prior to the tournament, while on display at a stamp exhibition in Westminster Central Hall in London, the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen from under the noses of its guards.

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There were supposed to be two of them standing beside the trophy case at all times during opening hours, but on 20 March, the second day of the exhibition, they failed in their duty. That same day, a church service took place in another part of the building, filling it with people.

During their noon circuit, the guards discovered that the rear doors of the building had been forced open and the display cabinet broken into. The trophy, which had been awarded to World Cup winners since 1930, was gone.

A thin man hanging around earlier in the day was all the police had to go on. The thief ignored the stamp collection – valued at around £3 million – taking only the £3,000 trophy.

Three days later, the Football Association received a ransom note. An undercover police officer took fake money to an arranged spot and met Edward Bletchley, a petty thief. He was arrested, but didn’t have the cup, insisting he was only a middleman. No-one else was ever found regarding the crime.

The dog that found the World Cup

Seven days after the theft, a collie called Pickles alerted his owner, David Corbett, to a newspaper-wrapped package in a hedge near his home in south London. The pooch had sniffed out the abandoned World Cup.

Pickles became a minor celebrity after his discovery, and both man and dog were invited to the celebration meal after England won the tournament in July; he was even allowed to eat from his owner’s plate. Pickles died the following year, but such was his legacy that his collar is on display at the National Football Museum.

This wasn’t the last time the World Cup was stolen. In 1970, the trophy was gifted to Brazil in perpetuity after they won the tournament for a third time, and a new one designed for future World Cups. The original was stolen from the Brazilian Football Confederation building in 1983; it hasn’t been seen since.

Jonny Wilkes is a freelance writer specialising in history

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This article was first published in the June 2018 edition of BBC History Revealed