In 1966, England was ramping up to host the World Cup — which it would eventually win. But months before any players set foot on the field, the iconic gold Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen from its well-guarded display case. A week later, it was recovered ... with a little help from a four-legged Londoner.
The crime was as embarrassing as it was flabbergasting, since it happened in the middle of the day, was in a locked case, and two security guards were supposed to be keeping an eye on it. There were no immediate leads, the BBC reported at the time:
Detectives and forensics experts are investigating the break-in and have appealed for anyone who was in Central Hall to contact Scotland Yard.
Police say a suspicious-looking man was seen in the building at the time of the theft. He is described as being in his early 30s, of average height with thin lips, greased black hair and a possible scar on his face.
Brazil, who were the current World Cup champs until England’s victory in the impending tournament, had loaned the trophy, and they were most displeased:
Brazil said it was a sacrilege that would never have been committed in Brazil where even its thieves loved football too much.
The day after the theft, a ransom demand was made. The police nabbed the suspect when he showed up to collect the money, but the man claimed he was working on behalf of another crook he knew only as “the Pole,” and he wasn’t able to produce the trophy. A week passed.
Enter Pickles, a charismatic black-and-white mutt who sniffed something out of the ordinary while strolling with his owner, David Corbett, in their south London neighborhood. In 2006, Corbett recalled the night in an interview with the Guardian:
‘I put the lead on Pickles and he went over to the neighbour’s car,’ recalls Corbett, now 66. ‘Pickles drew my attention to a package, tightly bound in newspaper, lying by the front wheel. I picked it up and tore some paper and saw a woman holding a dish over her head, and disks with the words Germany, Uruguay, Brazil. I rushed inside to my wife. She was one of those anti-sport wives. But I said, “I’ve found the World Cup! I’ve found the World Cup!”’
At first, the police were so suspicious of this incredible story that Corbett became their top suspect. But the power of Pickles prevailed:
Once Corbett was cleared, the media got the story, and Pickles became an international star. Offers to visit foreign countries rolled in for the heroic hound, and he received a free year’s supply of dog food. Pickles even starred in a feature film, The Spy With the Cold Nose. At the height of Pickles’ popularity, he was earning £60 a day for Corbett.
Better still, when the English team won the World Cup that year, the players asked for Pickles to attend the celebratory banquet and even let him lick their plates clean. Corbett received a £3,000 reward that he used to buy a house in Surrey.
The spy film also starred two bulldogs, notes the caption on the photo seen at the top of this post (that’s Pickles “signing” his film contract, obviously). Sadly, the hero dog died not long after rising to fame in a tragic cat-chasing accident, but his legacy lives on.
It was later revealed that a replica of the trophy was secretly made, in case the real deal wasn’t recovered in time for the start of gameplay. And Brazil’s public horror over the theft would come back to haunt the country; after it won its third World Cup in 1970, it was allowed to keep the Jules Rimet Trophy permanently. (A new trophy was created for the 1974 competition, and it’s still used today.) In 1983, it was stolen from its fortified display case at the Brazilian Football Confederation’s head office, and was never recovered. Many believe it was melted down for its gold content.
Image: AP Photo