Age of Innocence – 1966, Pickles the Dog and the Football World Cup

The biggest sporting story of 1966 was that the England football team won the World Cup when they beat West Germany 4-2 and Geoff Hurst, despite the near fifty year controversy over whether the ball crossed the line or not,  famously scored the only world cup final hat trick ever.  The whole country went football mad that year and everyone knows all about the marvellous victory.

But Sir Alf Ramsay’s England team were not the only national footballing heroes of 1966. There was also Pickles the dog, without whom there may not have been a trophy for Bobby Moore and his team mates to lift on that glorious day in July.

The solid gold Jules Rimet trophy was stolen while on public display at an exhibition in London and this led to a nationwide search and the Football Association Chairman, Joe Mears, receiving threatening demands for money to ensure its safe return.  Brazil, the then holders of the trophy were understandably outraged and accused the English FA of total incompetence.  No change there then and they were almost certainly right of course but by a delicious twist of fate the trophy was stolen again in 1983, this time in Rio de Janeiro and this time it was never ever recovered.  It is believed that it was melted down for the precious metal and it will almost certainly never be seen again.

Back to 1966 and this is the point where the story becomes unbelievably weird or perhaps just plain unbelievable.  One evening a week after the theft, a man called David Corbett was out walking his mongrel dog Pickles, in south-east London, when the dog’s attention was caught by a package wrapped in newspaper lying under a bush in somebody’s front garden.

It was the Football World Cup.  I’ll say that again.  It was the Football World Cup!  No one has ever satisfactorily explained what it was doing under a bush wrapped in a copy of the Daily Mirror but David Corbett received a reward of £5,000, which was a huge sum, the equivilent of over £250,000 today and Pickles became an overnight national hero.  I am surprised that he wasn’t in the BBC top one hundred greatest Britons or a finalist in the Sport’s Personality of the Year.

But some people said that the trophy was cursed and perhaps they were right because within only weeks of the cup’s recovery and in a remarkable instance of bad luck, Pickles choked to death when he caught his lead in the bough of a fallen tree while chasing a cat.


Apart from the result there were some other things about the World Cup that are also interesting.  The official mascot for example was a Lion called World Cup Willy who wore a Union Flag shirt of red, white and blue, which was strange because this was England that were playing and not the United Kingdom, but as none of the other home nations were in the finals I suppose England generously believed that they were representing Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.

Embarrassingly England’s first defeat after the World Cup was against Scotland at Wembley in 1967 and the Scottish team that included the footballing legends, Denis Law, Jim Baxter and Billy Bremner promptly declared themselves the new World Champions.  Sadly for them it didn’t work like that and lets face it they never will be.

World Cup Willy had a World Cup song that was not unsurprisingly called World Cup Willy that made number one in the hit parade and was sung by Lonnie Donegan.  He was a guitar and banjo player who also played the washboard and the tea-chest bass and who had a lot of chart success in the 1950s and early 1960s.  Anecdotally it was Lonnie who inspired John Lennon to learn guitar and form his first group, The Quarrymen.  What is strange about Lonnie singing the English World Cup song however is that although he was brought up in East Ham he was in fact born in Scotland.  I wonder where his loyalties were when Scotland beat England in 1967?  Apart from ‘World Cup Willy’, Lonnie is probably best remembered for another number one hit called ‘My old man’s a dustman’.

At the end of the world cup final the words of the commentator, Kenneth Wolstenholme, became part of broadcasting history when as the match was coming to the end in injury time a small pitch invasion took place just as Geoff Hurst scored to put England 4-2 ahead and Wolstenholme said ‘Some people are on the pitch … they think it’s all over … it is now!’ and these have become arguably the most famous words in English football, and a well known phrase that has passed into modern English usage.


15 responses to “Age of Innocence – 1966, Pickles the Dog and the Football World Cup

  1. Didn’t even know Lonnie was still making records in the mid-sixties, let alone a World Cup song! Going to have to track that one down someday

  2. Although I was around, I don’t remember watching England winning the world cup back in 1966, but I do remember hearing about Pickles the dog and “My old man’s a dustman.”

  3. I remewmber watching the WC finals in our bungalow, just off the Dunchurch Rd. We had an (Ferguson I think) box typw TV cased in wood that stood on the floor and when germany scored I distinctly remember my old man saying, “bloody idiots, that’s that then!”. When having to eat his words later he relented somewhat “bloody useless germans” and disappeared off the his favourite haunt – The Royal Oak on Dunchurch Rd!

    • Great memories. I only remember the Royal Oak on the Crick Road.

      • That was a few miles away from where we lived Andrew, we were on Beaconsfield Avenue near St Mary’s church, just off the Dunchurch Road. Funnily enough me & the wife drove over that way a couple of years ago and I couldn’t believe my eyes when i saw our old bungalow – I think ‘devastated’ would fit the bill!

  4. I also remember ’66 because my old man drew Anglo out of the hat in the annual Grand National draw at the school – and fely duty bound to to have 1/2 crown each way (a lot then) which would be 12.5p E/W these days. When it went clear my old man was absolutely beside himself with joy – though I doubt the local bookie in Rugby was! What was more unbelievable was him reluctantly having a pluck in the next years National draw and producing a folded bit of paper which had one word on it….. Foinavon!
    1966 was also the year that I came alive as “Paperback Writer”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Good Vibrations”, “Reach out I’ll be there” and many many more wonderful sounds showed me a new world and boy oh boy, was i ready to be let loose!
    If only we could turn that nasty old clock back!!!

  5. Pingback: Age of Innocence – 1966, Pickles the Dog and the Football World Cup | Have Bag, Will Travel

  6. Does the same trophy get passed from champion to champion, or is a new one made each time?

  7. Poor Pickles, what a way to go, after his brief lived hero-dom!

  8. Well, the story of Pickles shows us that one can be a hero by simply doing your thing. Sniff at a newspaper bundle, or chase a cat – be true to who you are and maybe you’ll get famous. Maybe you’ll get tangled in a branch and die, but at least you were living life right. 😉

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