Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Thursday, 10 June 2010 12:49 UK

The secret of the stolen European Cup

Police at West Bar Police station in Sheffield

By Shari Vahl

It was the most prized piece of silverware in European club football - but one night in a pub in the West Midlands, it went missing. Twenty-eight years later the story of how two teams of police officers played to win the European Cup can finally be told.

Very few people knew about the disappearance and subsequent recovery of this famous piece of football silverware in Sheffield. A secret kept for the last 28 years.

In May, 1982, Aston Villa were the kings of Europe, having just won the most prestigious club prize - the European Cup. The then 22-year-old Villa left back, Colin Gibson, along with midfielder Gordon Cowans, brought the gleaming trophy home after a one-nil victory against Bayern Munich in Rotterdam.

Gibson recalls how, in celebratory mood, the pair took the gigantic silver cup, which weighs up to 15kg, out of the boot of the car and took it into a pub.

"We used to go out and take the European Cup where we could to show it to the fans… and let them have their pictures taken with it," says Gibson.

They were celebrating with supporters at the the Fox Inn in Hopwas, near Tamworth, in the club's native West Midlands.

"Gordon and I had had a few drinks, and we were playing a competitive darts match, when someone turned round and said 'the cup's gone, it's been stolen'.

Folklaw

"At the time you didn't really realise what was happening. All I can remember is dread and trying to block it out as if it didn't really happen."

To this day none of the players knew where the cup had disappeared to. But a collection of policemen on night shift 100 miles away in Sheffield knew exactly where it had gone.

Mick Greenough, was the officer on duty that night at West Bar Police station in Sheffield city centre.

Sheffield policemen on how European Cup went missing

"I remember the lad on the desk walked through to the control room and said we've got a man at the front desk who says he's got the European Cup in the car. So off he trotted and next thing the swing doors go and there he is at the front desk with the European Cup, with claret and blue ribbons on."

Graham Wragg, then a 24-year-old constable, says they rang West Midlands Police to try to find out where the cup had come from, but they put the phone down saying they had a major incident on.

Puzzle

"So we rang back, and said we think we know what your major incident is… We said 'we think we've got the European Cup here, would that be connected to it?' There was a bit of a silence and they said 'we're coming to fetch it!'"

These football-mad young men had already formed their own team from the members of their shift. The chance was too good to miss and they decided to stage their own European Cup final - the prize being the feted piece of silverware itself.

Former Aston Villa left back Colin Gibson recalls what happened

They picked two teams in the middle of the night, in full uniform in the garage at the back of the station, and had their photographs taken holding the cup. In 1982 the only cameras readily available were those used by scene of crime officers, who it is believed took the pictures.

For 28 years this story has been kept a secret between those involved. It has only come to light now because the photographs were discovered at the station, which is being cleared out and closed down.

All these years the story has been met with disbelieved and treated as folklore at the Fox Inn near Tamworth, from where the cup vanished that night.

The pub's current manager, Robbie James Pimberley, confirms it was "a popular place for the Villa players back then".

"As you take over new pubs you get the histories… that was one of the first things I was told. I never knew what to believe. Now I know it's true. It's great to hear the Sheffield policemen played each other for the European Cup. It's what dreams are made of for young lads."

But one final bit of the puzzle remains. Who actually stole the cup? The pictures show a man standing next to the police officers, but his face has been rubbed out and no-one can remember who he was.

Nobody has been able to track him down, but there is a police station in Sheffield who would very much like to hear from him.

UPDATE 4 June: 'That stolen European Cup? My friend took it'


Below is a selection of your comments.

I seem to remember the first FA Cup being stolen when in Aston Villa's position. To lose one cup might be seen as misfortune, to lose two sounds like sheer carelessness. Still, a great story although I suspect it's unlikely it would happen today.
Jon Tout, Southport

Martin O'Neill probably feels Villa had the Carling Cup stolen from them this year, too.
John, Prestatyn, Wales



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