The athletic world was rocked by the news that the Jules Rimet Trophy — the premier prize in soccer — had been stolen. The date was March 20, 1966, and England was just four months away from hosting the 1966 FIFA World Cup. The trophy was on display at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster when thieves absconded with it. The eyes of the soccer world turned to Scotland Yard to solve this infamous crime, but the case would ultimately be solved by the most unlikely of heroes.
Shortly after the theft, FIFA authorities were contacted by a man who called himself “Jackson.” He told them to go to Stamford Bridge, where they located a £15,000 ransom demand, accompanied by the removable lining from the top of the trophy.
Detectives made arrangements to meet “Jackson,” whose real name was Edward Betchley. Betchley claimed he was just following the orders of a mysterious criminal mastermind known as “The Pole.” Whether he was just the middleman or was, in fact, “The Pole” was never conclusively determined. Regardless, Betchley was eventually convicted for demanding money with menace, and sentenced to two years imprisonment. No other co-conspirator was ever identified.
Although Betchley was caught, the trophy itself was still missing. That changed on Sunday, March 27, when it was discovered, wrapped in newspaper at the bottom of a suburban garden hedge in Beulah Hill, Upper Norwood, South London. Who was the intrepid hero who found the trophy and saved the World Cup? It was a four-year-old collie named Pickles.
Pickles was on a walk with his owner, David Corbett when he discovered the missing trophy. “Pickles was running around over by my neighbor’s car,” explained Corbett. “As I was putting the lead on, I noticed this package laying there, wrapped just in newspaper but very tightly bound with string. I tore a bit off the bottom and there was a blank shield, then there were the words Brazil, West Germany and Uruguay printed. I tore off the other end and it was a lady holding a very shallow dish above her head. I’d seen the pictures of the World Cup in the papers and on TV so my heart started thumping.”
When England beat West Germany, Pickles and Corbett received an invitation to the celebratory dinner. Pickles, for his part, seemed unimpressed with all the celebrities. “We went into the hotel with all these celebrities, and Pickles walked over to the lift shaft and did a wee. I felt so embarrassed,” recalled Corbett.
Pickles was awarded £5,000 for his discovery, which he graciously gave to his owner to help him purchase a house. Pickles was far more interested in his other prizes. He was awarded a medal by the National Canine Defence League, named Dog of the Year in England and Italy, and became an international celebrity. He even appeared on television and in the movie The Spy with a Cold Nose. He also received a year of free food by pet food manufacturer Spillers.
The trophy itself did not stay safe for long. In December 1983 it was stolen from the headquarters of Brazilian Football Confederation in Rio de Janeiro and has never been recovered.
One would think authorities would turn to Pickles for help since he had proven himself so adept at retrieving the elusive trophy. Alas, that was not possible. Pickles’ fame — and life — were tragically cut short just one year after his great discovery.
“He was a perfect dog, except he didn’t like cats,” said Corbett. “He was outside with my son and had a choke-chain on when a cat shot across the alleyway. Pickles pulled the boy, he let the lead go, and the dog went away. We were looking everywhere, and at the back of garden there was a tree, and he was halfway up there. I think he must have broken his neck.”
Pickles is now buried at the bottom of Corbett’s garden in Lingfield. his collar is on display in the National Football Museum in Manchester. His memory lives on in the grateful hearts of soccer fans worldwide.
A fictional version of Pickles’ story was told in a 2006 drama written by Michael Chaplin, called Pickles: The Dog Who Won The World Cup.