England Loses the World Cup: In March 1966, a Few Months before the England Football Team Won the World Cup, the FA Lost It. Martin Atherton Tells the Full, Often Farcical, Story of the Theft and Recovery of the Jules Rimet Trophy
Trophy, Jules Rimet, History Today
IHE THEFT OF the World Cup in 1966 is one of the most unusual stories in the long history of football. The solid silver trophy, covered in gold plate and with a lapis lazuli plith, had been made in 1930, and between competitions was kept by representatives of the country that had last won it. During the ond World War, the trophy was hidden by FIFA vice-president Ottorino Barrassi, president of the Italian Football Association. Italy had won the trophy in 1938, and to protect it from theft during the last days of Italy's involvement in the war, Barrassi placed it in a shoebox which he kept hidden under his bed.
The Football Association (FA) were in possession of the Jules Rimet Trophy, as the Cup had been known since 1946, from January 1966 in preparation for the tournament scheduled to take place in England in July.
Once the FA took possession of the Trophy, it was kept at their headquarters at Lancaster Gate in London, but was regularly allowed out for publicity events, though usually only for a few hours. In late February, the FA was approached by the internationally renowned Stanley Gibbons stamp company for permission to include the Trophy in their 'Stampex' exhibition taking place in Central Hall, Westminster, in March. The FA agreed, though a number of conditions were laid down by Sir Stanley Rous, president of FIFA. These conditions included: the Trophy must be transported via a reputable security company; it must be placed in a locked glass case which would have a guard next to it day and night; and it would be insured for 30,000 [pounds sterling] (even though its official valuation was a relatively low 3,000 [pounds sterling]). The stamps that would be on display with it were valued at 3 million [pounds sterling], so Rous thought the Trophy would be comparatively safe among the much more valuable stamps. It was the commercial value of the Cup as a piece of silver and gold that Rous considered here, rather than its value as a sporting icon.
The exhibition was to take place over two floors at Central Hall, Westminster. This is the largest Methodist church in London, with exhibition space for hire on the first floor situated close to New Scotland Yard and the Houses of Parliament and just yards from the Home Office. It should have been pretty safe in such surroundings.
Stampex opened on Saturday, March 19th, 1966, and the World Cup was a major attraction, having been the focus of much advance publicity in the press. Four uniformed guards were supposed to be on duty day and night, while a further two plain-clothes officers were present while the exhibition was open. Between the hours of 8am and 8pm of the days when the exhibition was open, an additional guard was permanently stationed next to the display cabinet containing the Trophy. However, this broke the strict condition imposed by Rous, to have a guard by the trophy around the clock.
The theft occurred on the morning of Sunday, March 20th, when the exhibition was closed. The exhibition rooms could only be accessed from the main corridors of the main building, and the four guards on duty were split into two pairs, one set on each floor. One guard checked the doors on both floors at 9am, and at around 9.30, two maintenance men arrived to open the front doors of the building. The Central Hall was used on Sundays for Methodist services and as a Sunday School, and all the external public doors were open and all corridors accessible. The two workers were also admitted to the exhibition area for routine cleaning and maintenance work. They were escorted into and out of the Stampex rooms, and they claimed to have locked the back doors to the hall when they left soon after. They were later interviewed by police and confirmed that they had seen the Trophy in the display cabinet. At no stage were they regarded as suspects for the theft.
The guards checked the Trophy at 11am and then both guards on duty on the first floor sat in the office within the exhibition room on the first floor drinking coffee, while 200 people were attending a church service in the hall below. …