Many people know the World Cup was stolen in 1966, then famously discovered by Pickles the dog. But what has never been reported is the theft of another massive piece of footballing silverware, the European Cup, and its eventual discovery in Sheffield.
BBC Radio 4’s Shari Vahl usually conducts investigations for You & Yours rather than the disappearance and subsequent recovery of major sport trophies – but now she can reveal a secret well-kept for 28 years.
In 1982 Aston Villa won the European Cup by beating Bayern Munich 1-0 in Rotterdam. After a joyous homecoming, the players took the enormous trophy around to supporters’ clubs to show the loyal fans. At one such function at a pub near Tamworth, the Aston Villa left-back Colin Gibson got into an argument with a man who, unbeknownst to anyone, then picked up the European Cup and left the pub!
“We were concentrating on winning a game of darts when someone turned round and said, ‘The European Cup’s gone!’,” remembers Colin Gibson. “It had been stolen. We sort of went, ‘Oh my God!'” Until May 2010, none of the players knew where the cup had gone – but a group of policemen on night duty at West Bar Police Station in Sheffield did. Mick Greenough was one of them:
“The lad on the front desk said, ‘We’ve got a man here who says he’s got the European Cup in the car.’ I said, ‘Tell him to go home – we’ve got cells full of people like this!’ The next thing, the swing doors go and the guy wanders in with the European Cup with claret and blue ribbons on it!”
We invited him into the back for a cup of tea.
Police in Sheffield rang their colleagues in Birmingham to ask whether the ‘major incident’ they were investigating had anything to do with the missing European Cup sitting on the Sergeant’s desk!
Meanwhile, the football-mad young Sheffield bobbies spotted an irresistible opportunity.
Tim Wells now trains the South Yorkshire Police dog handlers and Graham Wragg now runs the Economic Crime Unit. At that time they ran a Sunday League football team from West Bar:
“We decided that we might as well hold a football match for the cup,” remembers Graham. “We picked two teams of four and away we went! In the middle of the night. In full uniform.”
“Yep, we played for the European Cup in the garage out the back here,” says Tim. “We’ve got the photo of us holding the cup.”
“Certainly not many Sheffield footballers can say they have had their hands on the European Cup!” says Graham.
Peter Springett, the late Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper is also on the photos; after he left professional football he went to work at West Bar police station although Graham Wragg can’t remember whether he played in the coppers’ game.
The photos came to light because West Bar police station is up for sale. Old colleagues brought these photos along to a farewell do for the police station.
The name of the man who stole the cup may be a clue to why no-one in Sheffield believed him at first. He was called Eric Sykes (no, not the well-known comedian) and we haven’t been able to trace this particular Eric Sykes, but there is a soon-to-close police station in Sheffield that would love to hear from him… If you are the Eric Sykes who took the cup in Tamworth and returned it in Sheffield, href=”mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org”>get in touch!