How England lost the World Cup… and found it again

Always with a nose for a story, NORMAN GILLER wonders whether there are any more skeletons waiting in English football’s closet ahead of the tournament in South Africa, as he remembers a time when England managed to lose the World Cup before a ball was kicked in anger

Marvellous. You wait 44 years for a World Cup and two turn up at once.

Could this be the intro-in-waiting for July 11 in Johannesburg, as England’s footballers set out to emulate England’s Twenty20 world champion cricketers?

And after Lord Triesman managed to shoot himself in the foot (or should that be kicked himself in the balls?) are there any more scalding scandals waiting to trip us up on the doorstep to the finals?

If you have your ear to the ground, you will know there is at least one shattering story waiting to tumble out of the closet. Better still, have an eye to the screen and you will see that there is a scandal of Icelandic volcano proportions about to erupt in the north west.

Fleet Street are on to it, but have been gagged by lawyers. I am not going to line the pockets of m’learned friends by naming names, but that has not stopped thousands of people “unrestrained by the chains of libel law” talking about it openly online.

I have been a one-man defence team on the internet this week, trying ” with great difficulty” to stand up the Mail on Sunday’s decision to publish the Triesmangate Tapes Not since The Sun’s controversial coverage of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 has there been such a mass protest against one newspaper.

Facebook is heaving with people calling for a boycott of the Mail (most of them leave out the Sunday bit … in the online world where the two titles share the same website, not unreasonably to them, the Mail is the Mail. I wonder what the mood will be in the circulation department when the next sales figures come through? It could be the biggest dip since Liverpool closed shop on The Sun.

Gary Lineker won lots of praise on the internet with his decision to put his mouth where his money is. Let’s face it, as an official ambassador of England’s 2018 bid, he had little option but to surrender his £100k a year Mail on Sunday column in protest at their publication of the story about the erstwhile FA and World Cup bid chairman (pictured left).
The football follower inside me agrees that the Mail on Sunday did immeasurable damage to England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup by printing the Triesman tittle tattle. But as a veteran print-in-the-veins newspaperman I can’t see how they could have turned down a story of such wide-ranging implications. The fact that the News of the World turned down the story makes the Mail decision even more difficult to digest in Northcliffe House.
Editors in these days of slumping sales have to become more commercially minded, and ask themselves: “If we print this, what could be the long-term effect on our circulation?”

Otherwise they will printing “worthy” stories with nobody around to read them. The Publish and Be Damned principle has sadly died along with the Hugh Cudlipp generation.

Had I been Editor of the Mail on Sunday (Ed: “Don’t hold your breath, Giller”), I would have bought the story and then rubbished it. They could have taken a completely different slant, turning Triesman into an even bigger fool than he appears to be and giving the “lady” who taped their meeting the spanking she deserved (innuendo intended). The paper could have turned itself into a World Cup hero instead of alienating the millions of fans frothing for World Cup success. That would have been worth their reported £75,000 pay-out.

Get thee behind me, hindsight.

While discussing the Triesman topic online, I was asked: “Uncle Norman, have England ever been such a laughing stock before a World Cup?”

“Well,” I replied instantly, “there was the little matter of England losing the World Cup without kicking a ball …”

That was embarrassing and funny in equal measure. During the war the priceless Jules Rimet trophy was kept in a shoebox under the bed of a French FIFA official rather than risk letting the Nazis take it as part of their plunder. The Nazis couldn’t get their hands on it, but a petty criminal in London outwitted the great brains of the Football Association.

The FA took charge of the trophy in January 1966 ” six months before the Wembley final. Within eight weeks, they had lost it. The FA loaned it to the Stanley Gibbons stamp company for them to show off in a glass-fronted display cabinet at a public exhibition at Central Hall in Westminster.

Stanley Gibbons guaranteed round-the-clock security, and two uniformed officers guarded the trophy, supported by two plainclothes officers during the day. The only time it did not have full guard was on a Sunday, when the Central Hall was used for Methodist services.
On Sunday March 20, the guards did a noon check after a Methodist service had finished. They were rather shocked to find that someone had forced open the display case and the trophy plinth was empty. When the Methodist minister was informed his first words, apparently, were: “Good God …”
A massive cup hunt was launched, and a week later – to a background of world laughter and in a scene worthy of an Ealing comedy – a chap called David Corbett (pictured below right) was taking his dog Pickles for a walk in Upper Norwood when he decided he wanted a pee against a hedge – the dog, that is. As he cocked his leg, Pickles noticed a parcel and started to sniff it. It was wrapped in old newspaper. Mr Corbett picked it up and found, to his astonishment, that he was holding the World Cup … four months before Bobby Moore got his hands on it at Wembley.

At first, Corbett was suspected as an accomplice, but after close questioning he was able to come up with an alibi. He later picked up a reward of £6,000 (a hefty sum in those days), Pickles became a nationwide celebrity, and the petty thief got two years inside.

Pickles was even signed up by Spike Milligan’s agent. He starred in a feature, and appeared on Blue Peter and many other TV shows. He was made Dog of the Year, and picked up a tidy fortune in dog food sponsorship and commercial contracts.

The Brazilians, who won the trophy outright in 1970, were even more careless than the English, though. The Jules Rimet was stolen in 1983 and it has not been seen since. Sadly, it is feared to have been melted down is now adorning a hundred fingers in the shape of jewellery.

A replica of the Jules Rimet trophy, the one seen in most team photographs, was put up for auction at Sotheby’s. It was bought for £254,000 by FIFA, eclipsing the reserve price of £30,000, and is now at the National Football museum in Preston.

I was a reporter on the Daily Express at the time of the Great World Cup Robbery in 1966 and recall the Scottish news editor yelling across the editorial floor with almost maniacal triumph: “The English have lost the fucking World Cup again…” Happy days.