How Pickles the dog dug up the accursed World Cup

Pickles choked to death when his lead snagged on a fallen tree during a cat chase

Pickles choked to death when his lead snagged on a fallen tree during a cat chase

First published in News by

It was the moment Norwood became the focus of the world's attention. It was the resolution of an old-fashioned whodunnit that had the public and media gripped.

It's the oft-regaled story of Pickles the dog ferreting out the stolen Jules Rimet World Cup trophy in his Norwood garden back in 1966.

But this tale also has a dark side and set in motion a Tutankhamen-like curse. "I feel like a lucky man," says David Corbett, the former owner of Pickles, "because it's not been a very lucky cup."

The trophy was audaciously pinched on March 20 1966 from under the noses of the footballing authorities, who were proudly exhibiting it in the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, prior to England's hosting of the tournament.

Edward Bletchley, a 46-year-old former soldier, was accused of the theft (although he claimed to be merely a middle man, receiving £500 for his troubles) and was responsible for attempting to blackmail Joe Mears, then chairman of the FA and Chelsea Football Club, into paying a £15,000 ransom for the return of the nine-inch solid gold statue.

Mears agreed to the deal, which was to be performed at a clandestine rendezvous with Bletchley in Battersea Park, but ignored his demand for the police to remain oblivious.

In the run-up to the exchange Bletchley became suspicious of a transit van, which he correctly guessed to be a police back-up team, and fled. The attempt ended in his arrest and Bletchley shortly found himself in Brixton prison.

With the finals looming and the world's eyes on England to deliver a competition to remember, the cup was still missing.

The details from this point are sketchy but it is believed that, from his cell, Bletchley struck another deal with the police. He wanted a lady friend to visit him in prison and, if they obliged without interfering, the trophy would materialise. Days later the cup was in Pickles' paws.

And the curse? Within weeks of the cup's recovery, Joe Mears died of a heart attack having suffered severe angina after the stress of the hunt. Pickles, in a remarkable instance of bad luck, choked to death by snagging his choke lead on a fallen tree while chasing a cat.

Bletchley served two years in prison for his part in the crime and was released, only to promptly die of emphysema.

And the uncanny chain of events even stretched to the cup itself, which was again stolen in 1983 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, never to be recovered. It is believed to have been melted down.

For David it's a story that has lead to a life punctuated by bouts of fame followed by obscurity, and as the World Cup finals again fill the headlines he is once more at the mercy of the media. "This happens every four years when the World Cup comes around; my 15 minutes of fame. This year it's been especially busy, I've been trying to work out why but I have no clue.

"The FA have never really acknowledged me until this year all of a sudden they gave me tickets to the Hungary match at Old Trafford."

Now retired, David is happy to only have sporadic tastes of fame: "Oh no I wouldn't want to be famous all the time, I couldn't stand it. When this World Cup's over I'll slip under the curtain again and I'm quite happy with that."

He's got a few months to wait though and a queue of foreign television crews at his door to satisfy.

For them, David is the keeper of a charming tale and the portal to Pickles' humble grave, which lies in his back garden.

Despite being not the first nor last time he will be regaling his story this summer, he runs through the details with vigour and efficiency.

The short version of events is that he went across the road to make a call from a phone box when Pickles spied a parcel in his front garden and dragged David over.

"I thought it was a bomb," he says, "there was a lot of IRA action at the time. Even when I starting taking off the paper and saw it was a statue, nothing really stirred. Then I noticed it said Brazil, West Germany and so on and ran into my wife immediately. It wasn't very World Cuppy though very small."

David spent that evening at Scotland Yard, still in his slippers after his dash to Gypsy Hill police station, defending his find.

He suddenly became the prime suspect and was regretting fate's intervention earlier that day. "I was thinking, 'What have I done here?, Why didn't I just throw it back in the road?' There were 20 coppers each side of me and I was getting a bit worried."

But whereas the attention he now receives is purely nostalgic, at the time he and Pickles became genuine celebrities.

Pickles starred with Eric Sykes and June Whitfield in the film The Spy With the Cold Nose and had the same agent as Spike Milligan.

As a pair they made numerous television appearances including Blue Peter and bulldozed Harold Wilson and the general election off the front pages of the national press.

And now they're back. The Times is on its way, followed by the BBC and a Czech camera crew. Perhaps our paths will cross again in 2010.

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