March 20, 1966: Football's World Cup stolen as England prepares to host tournament

The Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen from a Westminster stamp exhibition. Its subsequent discovery by Pickles the dog would be the stuff of legend…

The Jules Rimet Trophy, the prize for the winners of football’s World Cup, was stolen from an exhibition in London on this day in 1966.

The trophy had arrived in England in January 1966 prior to the World Cup finals taking place across the country in July.  It was kept at the Football Association headquarters in Lancaster Gate, but was occasionally allowed to be used in publicity events.

[July 30, 1966: England win the World Cup in front of 97,000 fans and the Queen at Wembley]

The Stanley Gibbons stamp company had been given permission to display the trophy as part of its ‘Stampex’ exhibition at the Central Hall in Westminster, which opened the previous day, on the condition that it was kept under guard at all times.

The now empty display stand at the Stampex exhibition in Westminster.

Two uniformed officers were on duty at the Hall at all times, supplemented by additional guards when the exhibition itself was open, but the display cabinet was not permanently guarded on Sunday March 20, when a Methodist church service was taking place in the building.

[August 4, 2012: Olympic fever grips the nation as six golds make it a Super Saturday for Team GB]

At 12.10pm, when the guards on duty were undertaking their regular patrol of the premises, they realised that the back of the display cabinet had been forced open and the trophy stolen, the thieves having entered and left the building by a fire escape.

News of the theft travelled around the world at lightning speed. A spokesman for the Brazilian FA called the loss of the trophy “sacrilege”, and proclaimed it would never happen in his country as Brazilians loved football too much.

Detective Chief Inspector William Little replaces the top on the recovered World Cup at Cannon Row police station, London.

A £15,000 ‘ransom’ demand given to FA Chairman Joe Mears, who was also sent the trophy’s lid (later reunited with the trophy, above), led to the arrest of a con man by the Flying Squad but not to the trophy’s return.

[March 20, 1974: Shots fired on the Mall as gunman attempts to kidnap Princess Anne]

On March 27, a dog called Pickles, owned by David Corbett, began to sniff at a parcel that was lying under the hedge of Corbett's house in south east London. When he unwrapped the newspaper, Corbett immediately recognised the Jules Rimet Trophy.

Pickles the dog became a national celebrity when he found the stolen trophy under a bush.

Corbett and Pickles would receive around £6,000 in reward money, and the dog briefly became a media star (above). After England won the World Cup in July, Corbett and Pickles were invited to the celebration banquet with the victorious squad.