The Ringer’s 22 Goals: The Story of the World Cup, a podcast by Brian Phillips, tells the story of some of the most iconic goals and players in the history of the men’s FIFA World Cup. Every Wednesday, until the end of Qatar 2022, we’ll publish an adapted version of each 22 Goals episode. Today’s story involves Geoff Hurst, a dog named Pickles, and the curious case of missing World Cup trophy in England in 1966.
1. The Heist of the Century
In the spring of 1966, a small and relatively unknown island nation called England was preparing to host its first-ever World Cup. In late March, the World Cup trophy was put on display in the English capital, a city locals know as London.
In the words of one English reporter, “the most stringent security precautions” were taken to protect the trophy while it was being exhibited to the public. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
Then the trophy disappeared.
Something could possibly go wrong.
In the words of another English reporter:
The international row about the theft of the World Cup is now squarely centered on the security arrangements under which display was authorized here. The Football Association says in a statement that it was only released on the strict understanding that it would be displayed in a glass case, and that there would be a day and night security guard.
That’s right. On March 20, 1966, the World Cup trophy—the most coveted treasure in all of sports—was stolen in London. Stolen right from under the noses of the elite security forces assigned to protect it.
But what sort of master thief could defeat both a glass case and a day and night security guard?
The reporter continued:
One private security firm brought the Cup here from the FA’s headquarters in Lancaster Gate, and an entirely different one, Alsa Guard Services, of Coulsdon, in Surrey, whose motto is “An alert Alsatian,” was responsible, and still is responsible, for security inside the three-million-pound exhibition.
What sort of master thief could defeat not only a glass case, but also Alsa Guard Services, of Coulsdon, in Surrey?
And what did it mean that the motto of Alsa Guard Services was “An alert Alsatian”? “Alsatian” is the word English people use to refer to the German shepherd—English people, for some reason, do not like to say the word “German” out loud if they can possibly help it.
So how is “An alert Alsatian” a motto, when it sounds more like … a dog?
Does this motto imply that the guard on duty when the World Cup was stolen was in fact a dog?
Let’s turn to the authorities for some answers.
Mr. E.N. Reid, the head of security for Alsa, told the press:
Gentlemen, I’m terribly sorry, but I’m afraid I regret at this present moment I’m afraid I’m unable to make any real form of statement. I must ask you to appreciate the amount of pressure that I have been under for the last thirty hours. … Once I have had a chance to gather my somewhat scattered wits, then I will indeed talk with you and give you everything that I possibly can.
Helpful. One of the Scotland Yard detectives assigned to investigate the theft also spoke to the press. He said:
Well, we’re hoping. Either that it’s returned, or that we find out where it is.
Also helpful. I have just one follow-up question.
Were the authorities also dogs?
To gain insight into this case, I turned to the only sources I felt sure I could trust: my own dogs. I have two whippets: Lilybean, age six, and Simon, age three, going on four months.
I can’t play back the audio of that conversation, because they refused to give verbal consent to being recorded. But I asked them to pretend that something they treasured had been stolen from them. How would they search for it? And they looked at me with a look that said, “Listen, pal. You take away our yak-cheese chew stick every single morning to stop us from fighting over it. And we’re hoping. Either that it’s returned, or that we find out where it is.”
We’re here today to solve two mysteries.
First, what happened to the World Cup trophy when it disappeared in London in 1966?
Second, why did everyone in England in 1966 give off the distinct vibe that they were actually two golden retrievers dressed in a trench coat?
I can hear you asking, Aren’t we here to talk about a World Cup goal? Isn’t that, like, the whole deal of this series? To which all I can say is, number one, we’ll get to that. And number two, I’ll ask the questions here, bub.
This is not a soccer essay. This is the Case of the Missing World Cup.
2. Farewell, My Lovely
Call me a private eye. A gumshoe. A brother shamus on the case.
I was sitting in my office nursing a glass of scotch when a thought blew through my brain like a freight train through a Midwestern cottage-cheese festival.
The thought was that you would probably appreciate it if I told you what the hell I am talking about.
I’ll start at the beginning.
It all began with a dame. And by a dame, I mean an official vote by the FIFA Congress to award hosting rights for the 1966 World Cup to England.
That’s right. A real femme fatale. The kind of doll who could make a choirboy’s heart beat in his chest like a kettledrum mallet inside an industrial clothes dryer.
You see, England had never hosted the World Cup before. They’d never won it before, either. The Brits liked to say they’d invented soccer, but all they had to show for it was an empty shelf next to a needlepoint sampler reading “World Cup Memories.” It was enough to make the queen throw a corgi through a tray of crumpets.
Though I hope she didn’t, because I don’t think the queen was that kind of person. (RIP, your majesty.)
That was the fix English soccer found itself sidling up to at the pub and ordering a pint. Then she walked through the door. And again, by she, I mean a parliamentary motion approved by a congress of soccer administrators that finally granted England the right to host its first World Cup.
If the Beefeaters had known what was good for them, they’d have taken one look at that gal and known she was trouble. Trouble on the rocks with a twist of lemon. Or maybe they knew and just didn’t care. Maybe she was worth it. Maybe they don’t make ‘em like that in Coulsdon, in Surrey.
The English national soccer team at that time was like a plate of pancakes without syrup. The raw material was there, but it would have tasted better if you’d covered it with syrup.
I’m not saying they were patsies, but one tough broderick from a gang of top goons like Brazil and they’d be biting the linoleum faster than you could say “I didn’t do it” to a G-man with a tommy gun and an impatient look on his face.
The English manager was a man called Alf Ramsey. To picture him, imagine a man called Alf Ramsey.
There. You nailed it.
Alf Ramsey believed in fitness, so he called the team together and said look here, boys, we’re gonna run more laps than the roulette wheel in King Kong’s casino.
Around this time, the World Cup trophy itself was unveiled in England. In the mystery-solving game, we call this moment the 6th of January, 1966.
We also call it a big temptation for any potential World Cup thieves.
We furthermore call it a moment that was fortuitously recorded for posterity.
ANNOUNCER: A representative of the Brazil FA returned the World Cup his country holds to the keeping of FIFA.
SIR STANLEY ROUS, FIFA PRESIDENT, ENGLISHMAN: Whether they will leave it here permanently or just temporarily will be seen in July …
The game was now afoot. Literally.
And the mysteries were only intensifying, because FIFA President Sir Stanley Rous is the most obvious secret St. Bernard I’ve ever heard captured on audio.
SIR STANLEY: To the players, good playing, and for the spectators, some excellent sporting matches. Thank you.
I mean, come on.
The World Cup trophy was known as the Jules Rimet Trophy. It was named after the third president of FIFA.
To picture him, picture a Frenchman circa 1920 named Jules Rimet.
There. You nailed it again.
The Jules Rimet Trophy was 14 inches high and weighed 8.4 pounds. It was a 10-sided cup held up by the winged figure of Nike, the ancient Greek goddess of brand sponsorships. After each World Cup, the winning team was allowed to take the trophy home for four years. During World War II, the trophy was in Italy, and the president of the Italian soccer federation secretly took it out of the bank vault and hid it to prevent the Nazis from taking it.
He hid it under his bed, inside a shoebox. Clearly this was one trophy that was no stranger to a masterful heist.
In England, the cup was kept in the headquarters of the English Football Association in Lancaster Gate until March, when the FA agreed that it could be put on display in London at an exhibition for stamp collectors. As long as a glass case was provided to keep it locked down tight. It was taken to the exhibition hall by a security firm. And then an entirely different firm, Alsa Security, of Coulsdon, in Surrey, took over from there.
Remember Alsa Security’s motto? “An alert Alsatian.”
Remember how easily you were able to picture the England manager, Alf Ramsey, and the former president of FIFA, Jules Rimet, just a second ago? Now I want you to picture both of them looking at you and whispering, “The plot thickens.”
3. A Brief History of British Dogs
Clearly, if we want to come to grips with the disappearance of the World Cup in 1966, we’re going to have to follow a new thread in the evidence.
That thread is British dogs.
Where did British dogs come from? What were they doing? Did they like it in Surrey? Did they mind that whenever they were put on babysitting duty, Peter Pan would invariably come and transport the children they were watching to Never Never Land, making them look irresponsible, even though this was an eventuality they could not possibly have prepared for?
Just how alert were the Alsatians, anyway?
The story of British dogs extends far back into what we in the sleuthing industry call the mists of time.
In the year 43 AD, during the reign of the emperor Claudius, Roman forces invaded the island of Britain for reasons known only to themselves.
Historians may never understand why they left their homes to conquer an island where pie comes with mashed potatoes. But they do understand one thing, and that is that when the Roman armies sailed across the English Channel, they brought dogs with them. Numerous dogs. They brought hunting dogs. They brought fighting dogs. They brought guard dogs. They brought funny-looking dogs that could rack up likes on first-century Instagram, and thus win the war for hearts and minds.
Picture a goldendoodle looking at the camera with a goofy grin, and behind the camera is a village in flames, and the caption reads: “we put 300 Druids to the sword and Muffin was such a good boy.”
12/10, would immortalize on a triumphal column.
The Romans stuck around for 350 years. The dogs stuck around too. After the Romans left, Britain was invaded repeatedly, presumably by people who had never been there, and the new invaders also brought dogs. The Vikings brought dogs in little Brunnhilde hats. The Norman Conquest brought French dogs who turned up their little flat noses when offered bowls of inferior British wine.
All these dogs had puppies. A firm academic consensus holds that these puppies were cute. In different parts of the country, dogs from different genetic backgrounds diverged widely in temperament and behavior.
People seized on this opportunity to breed different dogs together to accomplish specific tasks—problems for which dog breeding was the only logical solution.
Like: I love shooting ducks, but I hate having to go and fetch duck carcasses. Time to convince some dogs to have sex!
Here’s an example of the sort of thing people turned to dogs to do for them. Way up north, in the Scottish Highlands, shepherds had a problem. The problem was how to get large flocks of sheep from point A to point B when sheep are chaotic narcissists who go wherever they want.
Enter dogs. Over hundreds of years, these lazy but enterprising shepherds developed a breed of dog that was intelligent, loyal, independent, and passionate about nipping the ankles of large quadrupeds. They developed a tireless breed that knew seemingly by instinct how to get things where they needed to go.
By the 18th century, these Scottish shepherds had arrived at one of the great inventions ever to come from the British Isles. They had invented … the collie.
Over the years, collies proved their worth as the U.K.’s ultimate problem solvers. In 1950, when three tiger cubs were born in the London Zoo, and then abandoned by their parents, the zookeepers knew just where to turn for help.
By contrast, the Alsatian was a German dog that didn’t come to England until the early 20th century. A breed that had never adopted a single lion, jaguar, or cheetah in any British zoo.
Not a good sign for the World Cup.
Not a good sign at all.
4. Tragic Kingdom, by Kno Doubt
In March 1966, two events occurred that would engulf British popular culture in two separate firestorms of controversy.
The first extremely controversial event happened when John Lennon casually observed that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.
The second extremely controversial event happened when a stamp-collectors’ exhibition quietly opened at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster.
The World Cup trophy was brought to the exhibition and, in keeping with the ironclad security plan established for its display, was placed inside a glass case in the exhibition hall. My research suggests that this case even had a lock.
Furthermore, there were two security guards around the clock. Admittedly, these guards did have to make rounds, and often made them at the same time.
But rest assured. Someone was watching the World Cup trophy quite a bit of the time.
On Sunday, March 20, the exhibition was closed to the public. When the guards returned from their rounds at about 12:10 p.m., they noticed that the display case had been forced open. The World Cup was gone.
In a heist so daring it seemed to have sprung from a Hollywood movie, the thieves had somehow managed to break in to a completely unattended glass display case and then sneak out the back door.
Scotland Yard began an investigation into the theft. The division of Scotland Yard that solves robberies is called the Flying Squad, which you have to admit is a pretty cool name for a squad, even if they do mostly use land-based forms of transportation.
The detectives asked workers in the hall if they had seen anyone suspicious. It turned out that a suspicious-looking man had been spotted near the public telephone by the lavatory, but this was a double-edged clue, because suspicious-looking men hang out near public telephones by lavatories all the time, whether or not they’re conspiring to steal the World Cup.
The next day, however, the plot thickened again. And let’s face it, the plot was already pretty thick to begin with.
The president of the English Football Association was a man called Joe Mears. On the 21st of March, Joe Mears received a phone call from an unknown man, who told him to look out for a package in the mail. The next day, the parcel arrived. It contained the lining from the top of the trophy and a ransom note.
Dear Joe, —
the ransom note read,
That’s spelled k-n-o doubt—
you view with very great concern the loss of the world cup. To me, it is only so much scrap gold. If I don’t hear from you by Thursday or Friday at the latest I assume it’s one for the POT.
In other words, the thief was threatening to melt down the World Cup if he didn’t receive his ransom. He wanted £15,000 in £1 and £5 notes or he would destroy the trophy to harvest its raw gold content.
There was just one problem with this ingenious plan. The World Cup was made of silver.
However, I’ve always thought it was very considerate of the thief to give the British authorities till Thursday or Friday to get the money together. Thursday would be nice, but check your calendar. See what works for you. We can totally do Friday if that meshes better with your schedule. Just send me a Google Meet invite and we’ll get this ransom thing worked out whenever it’s most convenient for you.
The thief laid out a plan for the FA to place a coded personal ad in The Evening News to signify that the ransom was a go.
Not long after receiving the package, Mears received a second phone call from a man who said that instead of £1 and £5 notes, the thieves would actually like £5 and £10 notes. If nothing else had made it clear to the Flying Squad that they were dealing with elite burglars, this did.
Because nothing says professional heist like changing your mind about which denominations you would like to receive your ill-gotten booty in.
The man who placed this second call gave his name as Jackson. This was a pretty good clue.
Also a pretty good name for an Airedale terrier.
5. A Boy Named Geoff
While the authorities were investigating the crime and trying to figure out exactly which combinations of bills they should get at the bank, Alf Ramsey and the England soccer team were training to win a trophy that may or may not have been spirited away to some evil genius’s private volcano.
English soccer, like the world at large in 1966, was going through a period of transition. That year, the Rolling Stones released “Paint It Black,” protests against the Vietnam War spread across the United States, and Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act, a law that would one day enable suspicious men loitering near pay phones to ring up the CIA and ask if they happened to know what precious metal the World Cup was actually made of.
Soccer had always been a popular pastime in England. But by 1966, the rise of television and mass popular culture was changing the nature of the game. The top English players—men like Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Jack Charlton, and others, some of whom did not even have Bobby or Charlton in their names—were now legitimate celebrities.
They may not have been more popular than Jesus, but they were definitely more popular than some of the lesser evangelists.
I’m looking at you, Mark.
The arrival of the World Cup, which represented England’s best chance to reclaim its rightful place as the world’s most self-important football nation, only intensified the surging enthusiasm for the game. A new fan culture was emerging, one that was louder, weirder, and more chaotic than what had gone before. Checklist item: Was it the 1960s? Check.
One player on the England team who had seen the changing face of soccer up close was a 24-year-old named Geoff Hurst. A striker for West Ham United, Hurst was the son of a professional soccer player called Charlie Hurst. He’d spent his childhood in the 1940s and ’50s watching his dad’s matches and dreaming about being on the pitch and scoring the big goal.
He was so obsessed that he was once fined £1 for disturbing the peace because he couldn’t stop kicking his ball into the next-door neighbor’s garden.
The record does not tell us what denomination of note he used to pay the fine. If I had to guess, I would say a one-pound note.
By 1966, Hurst was a successful professional. He was known as a modest, likable young guy with an optimistic attitude. What he wasn’t was a star. When the World Cup went on display at the stamp convention, Hurst was only a few weeks removed from his first-ever match as a full international for England.
And he wasn’t expected to play all that much in the World Cup. He was more of an understudy to the great Tottenham striker Jimmy Greaves.
But time, like a border collie whose flock is the whole universe, has a way of getting things where they need to go.
6. The Flying Squad Takes a Car Trip
But I’m getting ahead of myself. You and I still have a mystery to solve. There is a question hanging over this essay like a corgi hoisted over a table of crumpets, if the queen were a much angrier person than I think she was.
That question is, Where the bloody hell is the World Cup?
To double-check the Flying Squad’s handling of the case, I turned again to my crack duo of whippet investigators, Lilybean and Simon.
“Guys,” I said. “If the World Cup were stolen and you had to look for it, what would you do?”
They looked at me blankly, so I added, “Pretend you’re an alert Alsatian from Coulsdon.”
They looked at me blankly again, so I added, “That’s in Surrey.”
This seemed to spark something in them. They trotted over to a bush and started smelling it.
I was beginning to suspect that these whippets were going to be no help in my attempt to break through into the lucrative true-crime podcast market. If we wanted answers and the Netflix development deals that come with them, we were going to have to return to the professionals.
Back in London, it was time for the ransom payment. The man who’d received the burglars’ note, FA president Joe Mears, arranged with the Flying Squad to fill a suitcase full of paper; they put a little real money on the top to make it look like it was full of cash.
This was a real curveball. Instead of the fives and 10s they’d asked for, the thieves were instead going to get zeroes.
On the morning of the exchange, the police and Joe Mears waited for a phone call from the mysterious man known as Jackson. They looked at one another with the hard, flinty eyes of men who are prepared to do whatever they have to, men who sneer at pressure, men who will stop at nothing to achieve their aims.
The phone rang. Unfortunately, all that flinty gazing had caused Joe Mears to have an asthma attack. His wife answered the phone and gave it to one of the detectives.
It was Jackson.
The detective who took the call was named DI Len Buggy. He told Jackson he was Mears’s assistant and that his name was McPhee. They arranged for a rendezvous at Battersea Park Gate. Detective Buggy showed Jackson the suitcase and demanded to know where the World Cup was.
I’ll take you to it, Jackson said.
Jackson then did something only a criminal mastermind would have the cunning and foresight to attempt. He got in the car with Buggy, drove a little way, then suddenly jumped out of the car and tried to run away.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the English criminal underworld while working on this case, it’s that everyone involved in it is very smart.
Buggy chased Jackson into a garden, caught him, and placed him under arrest. Back at the station, Jackson was revealed to be a man called Edward Betchley, known as a petty criminal and also as a used-car salesman.
Your dad just texted me to make the following joke: “Is there a difference? smiley face with its tongue sticking out.”
But Jackson refused to tell the police anything useful about the theft. He denied that he’d been involved and said that a man known as “The Pole” had offered him £500 to be the middleman in the ransom payment.
Just when it seemed to be red hot, the trail had instead gone ice cold.
“Tough break, kid,” I thought, as I poured myself another glass of scotch. It had started to rain, and I watched the sheets of water falling outside my window like the last best hope of human happiness. “Maybe a shiny trophy doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this mixed-up world,” I murmured toughly, taking a swig of liquor. The neon light flickering outside my window made the shadows of the raindrops stand out in stark relief against my chiseled jaw.
I was a failure as a detective. My dogs were failures as detectives. The detectives were failures as detectives. One thing was plain. If I was ever going to find out where the World Cup was, I was going to have to turn to someone much smarter than any of us.
8. Pickles Takes the Case
One week after the daring theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy, on Sunday, March 27, 1966, a man called Dave Corbett left his home in the London neighborhood of Beulah Hill. He was going make a phone call, despite the fact that this would invariably mean a lot of suspicious-looking loitering near public phones.
He was also going to take his dog for a walk.
That dog’s name was Pickles.
In his front yard, Dave bent down to clip on Pickles’s leash, but Pickles was distracted by something and scampered away. He was sniffing around Dave’s neighbor’s car. Then he trotted over to a bush and started smelling it.
Dave trotted up to the same bush. Hm, what’s this? There was a package hidden inside the bush. It was bound in newspaper and wrapped tightly with string.
It was the package that had caught Pickles’s attention.
I quote now from the seminal reference text slash self-published children’s novel Pickles and the Stolen World Cup: Based on a True Story by Posey Parker.
NOTE: That is Posey Parker. NOT Parker Posey.
“Pickles, what did you find?
Looks like someone must have lost their package all bound up so nice and tidy like.” David Corbett bent down, picked up the package and said to Pickles, “I’ll unwrap it a bit to see if there is the owner’s name or address tucked inside so we can get it back to its rightful owner.”
He slipped part of the string off the top part first to reveal the wings and 10-sided cup upheld by a central figure. “Ah, somebody bought this nice brick-a-brac and was probably taking it to his mum, I’ll wager.”
Next he started to unwrap the base revealing the engraved plates that read, “Uruguay, Italy, Italy, Uruguay, West Germany, Brazil, Brazil.”
All of a sudden, it dawned on him, like a bolt of lightning, exactly what he was holding.
After a weeklong investigation by the Flying Squad had produced one used car salesman and zero World Cups, Pickles had found the missing World Cup after investigating for approximately 20 seconds.
Pickles was alert, but he was not an Alsatian. He was a little black-and-white collie mix, and he had a gift for getting things where they needed to go. His ancestors had brought sheep safely back to their pens in the Scottish Highlands, and now Pickles was bringing Jules Rimet Trophies safely back to their glass display cases in star-crossed exhibitions of rare stamps.
Corbett later described the moment when he realized what Pickles had found.
I tore a bit of the newspaper off, and saw Brazil, West Germany. Ooh. And being a football fan, and all the publicity going on about the Cup. … My heart started thumping, bang, against my chest. It’s the World Cup! I’ll take it to the police station. I jumped in the car, I’ve got me slacks on and a top, and me slippers. I can remember pushing the doors open and going straight through and there’s the sergeant standing behind the big polished desk, and I say to him: “I think I’ve found the World Cup.”
The sergeant looked the trophy up and down and uttered a line that I think about at least six times per day. He said, “Doesn’t look very World Cuppy to me, son.”
Put it on my tombstone.
9. Albion, Awake!
And so I learned, like all great detectives, that my assumptions about this case had been all wrong from the very beginning.
England wasn’t full of incompetent dogs who needed a human sleuth to solve the mystery. England was full of incompetent humans who needed a dog sleuth to solve the mystery.
It all makes so much sense when you lay it out like that.
There was just one more question. Who took the World Cup, and why? Who was Jackson? Who was the mysterious man known only as the Pole?
Why were 10s so much better than ones? Why did the thieves throw the World Cup into a hedge? And was the strange-looking man loitering near the pay phone by the bathroom because he had to make a phone call?
There were just several more questions.
Every detective story ends with the detective story wrapping things up in a tidy package, and to do that, I can tell you that—
Oh wait. I forgot about the World Cup.
Alf Ramsey and his squad were given a relatively easy draw through the group stage. It was made even easier by the fact that 31 African countries boycotted the tournament to protest what they saw as FIFA’s unfair rules governing African teams’ qualification for the tournament, and also to protest FIFA’s readmission of apartheid-era South Africa in 1963.
FIFA responded to this demand for justice, in classic FIFA fashion, by fining each Confederation of African Football nation 5,000 Swiss francs.
England won their group. As predicted, young Geoff Hurst watched from the bench. But then Jimmy Greaves went down with a shin injury against France.
Hurst replaced him as England’s starting striker. He was no longer going to be cited for disturbing the peace if he kicked a soccer ball too much. Kicking a soccer ball was now exactly what he was supposed to be doing.
In the quarterfinals, England faced Argentina in a match we’ve talked about before in this series, a game so ill-tempered and violent that it later prompted FIFA to introduce the yellow- and red-card system. At one point, the Argentine team threatened to walk off the pitch, the game was delayed for more than eight minutes, and when the Argentina captain was sent off by the German referee, he had to be removed with the help of the police.
Hurst scored the winning goal with a nifty leaping header in the 78th minute. It was just his second-ever goal for England.
In the semifinals, England beat Portugal 2-1 behind two goals from Bobby Charlton—easily one of England’s top-five Bobbys of all time.
For me, the memorable image from that match is the Portuguese great Eusebio weeping as he walked off the pitch into the tunnel. But for the English players, the memorable image from that match is probably whatever they were looking at when they heard the final whistle, when it dawned on them, like a bolt of lightning, that they were headed to the World Cup final.
To play for a trophy that everyone 100 percent knew the location of.
The final, like the seminal Queen album Live at Wembley Stadium, was played live at Wembley Stadium. The queen was in attendance. Muhammad Ali was in attendance. It was later reported that Muhammad Ali slept through most of the match.
England’s opponents: West Germany. West Germany slept through relatively little of the match.
Welcome to one of the zaniest World Cup finals of all time. It was a match that seemed to distill the exuberant chaos of 1966 itself into a sports competition. To this day, it remains the most-watched event in the history of British television (though it’s likely to fall into second place when the final viewing figures for the queen’s funeral are published). 32.3 million people watched on BBC One.
Helmut Haller, the West German forward, put his team on the board in just the 12th minute of the match.
Some might have said that this was the time for England to fall back on lethargy or half measures. Those people were one hundred and fifty percent wrong.
In the 18th minute, Geoff Hurst scored with a leaping header in the area to level the match at 1-1. A tight, hard-fought first half produced no further goals, possibly because the teams did not want to risk a lot of cheering and noise that could have woken Muhammad Ali up.
Second half: tight. Hard fought. Zero goals.
The queen looked on, turning her head from the right to the left as she followed the action of the match, the thoughts inside that head probably turning affectionately toward her corgis, whom she would simply never pick up and hurl through a tea table.
In the 78th minute, England’s Martin Peters got to the ball and scored on a right-footed volley in the area, breaking the tie.
An announcer would later say that after Peters’s goal, England “played like a team inspired to clench a win.” However, they did not play that much like a team inspired to clench a win, because instead of actually clenching a win, they gave up a goal to Wolfgang Weber in the 89th minute of the match.
We were heading to extra time.
Eleven minutes into extra time, it happened. We are finally ready to talk about the goal that is absolutely the main focus of this essay, because I am absolutely not much more interested in Pickles than in the rest of this story.
Here we go. Remember how Alf Ramsey was obsessed with fitness and got his players into great shape? His tactics now paid off as England was noticeably the fresher team. England created chance after chance. Finally, Alan Ball sent cross from the right side of the pitch to Geoff Hurst in the area.
A split second later, as one announcer said, Hurst “had the ball in the net.”
Except … he didn’t have the ball in the net at all! Hurst got the ball in the area with his back to the goal. He controlled the ball, spun around, and sent in a hard diagonal shot as he was falling to the ground. The ball ricocheted off the crossbar, bounced on the ground, right on the goal line, and then bounced out. It never touched the net.
Was it a goal? Oof. No one was sure. According to FIFA rules, the entire ball has to cross the goal line for the goal to count. It was clear that most of the ball had crossed the line after Hurst’s shot. But all of it?
The referee didn’t know what to do. He looked to the linesman. The linesman indicated that he thought it was a goal. The referee allowed the goal. The Germans were furious. No one was sure what was happening.
The mystery of the missing World Cup trophy had opened onto the enigma of the non-missing World Cup goal.
Decades later, scientists reviewed the goal using film analysis and computer simulations and concluded that only 97 percent of the ball crossed the goal line, making it 100 percent not a goal. At the time, though, it would have taken a Pickles-level detective to sort out what was what.
Though even an alert Alsatian would have been an improvement.
The match continued. West Germany worked furiously to level the score. In the dying seconds of the game, English fans started streaming onto the pitch, sensing that the key to the World Cup’s glass case was in their grasp.
Bobby Moore sent a long pass to Hurst, who tried to bonk the ball as hard as he could into the stands to waste some time. He badly mishit the ball. In fact, he missed the stands completely. What he hit instead was the top corner of the net. This one was unambiguously a goal. 4-2 England.
Geoff Hurst had just become the first person—and to this day he is still the only man—to score a hat trick in a World Cup final. Carli Lloyd did it, too.
The moment gave rise to one of the most legendary TV-announcer calls in World Cup history. “Some people are on the pitch,” said the BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme. “They think it’s all over. It is now! It’s four!”
The referee blew the whistle. The exhausted English players threw their arms around each other and celebrated. The queen smiled in a completely nonviolent manner. The crowd lost its collective mind.
And somewhere in the London neighborhood of Beulah Hill, a little black-and-white collie mix did not care all that much one way or the other, because he had no idea what sports was.
10. Thanks, Picks
Geoff Hurst played six more years at West Ham, then moved through several teams before finally retiring in 1977. Soccer players, even ones who scored hat tricks in World Cup finals, didn’t make nearly as much money then as they do now. After he retired, Hurst had to start a new career selling insurance.
He had a hard time, because when he called prospective clients, they’d refuse to believe that the hero of England’s World Cup win was on the phone. One man told him, “If you’re Geoff Hurst, my name’s fucking Marilyn Monroe,” then slammed the phone down before Hurst could even say, “I fucking loved you in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
Pickles became an international collie celebrity on a scale that even Lassie could hardly compete with.
What if I told you that when the England team greeted its throngs of cheering fans from the balcony of a London hotel, Dave and Pickles were with them, and England star Bobby Moore held Pickles up to receive a rapturous ovation from the crowd?
What if I told you that Pickles was in a movie called The Spy With a Cold Nose, which costarred a young Denholm Elliott, who later played Marcus Brody in the Indiana Jones movies?
What if I told you that Pickles was given rewards in excess of a hundred thousand dollars in today’s money, that he had the same agent as the famous comedian Spike Milligan, and that he received a silver medal from the Canine Defence Society?
All of these things are verifiably true, and you can trust me on this, because if I were making it up, I would give Pickles a gold medal.
Police never figured out who stole the World Cup. Jackson was eventually convicted for his part in the crime, but his coconspirators remained unidentified. It’s unknown to this day who threw the trophy into that hedge.
Well, I assume Pickles knew, but Pickles chose not to conduct most of his investigative work in English.
This happy ending has a bit of a sad ending.
Pickles died in 1967. His collar caught on a tree branch and choked him. At least he died doing what he loved. (He was chasing a cat.)
Dave Corbett buried him in the yard of the new house he had bought with the World Cup reward money and put a little marker over his grave reading, “Pickles, finder of the World Cup 1966.” As Dave later said:
It was through Pickles that my life changed. And he helped me buy this house, and he is buried out there in the garden. And on nice summer nights I go out there with a glass of white wine and have a little talk to him. And say, “Cheers. Thanks, Picks.”