The FA Cup is one of the most recognisable pieces of silverware in the English game. Did you know it was once STOLEN?
It is April 1895. The FA Cup is being contested by Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion.
The match is played at Crystal Palace and Aston Villa come away as 1-0 winners, courtesy of the fastest-ever FA Cup final goal, scored in 30 seconds by Bob Chatt.
Villa’s squad brings the trophy back with them on the train home, to be greeted by thousands of cheering supporters on their arrival back into Birmingham. Champagne is drunk from the cup as celebrations take place. The trophy is then taken to be stored in Aston Villa’s own safe at their Perry Barr ground.
After the ceremonials, a local boot maker and die-hard Villa fan, William Shillcock, requests to display the trophy in the window of his store.
Shillcock’s store was highly respected in the area, and he also supplied boots to Villa’s FA Cup-winning squad. As such, his request to the club’s committee was accepted and the trophy was displayed in W. Shillcock’s shop window on New Town Row around the end of August 1895.
A vanishing act…
5 months later, in the early hours of the 12th of September on a thundery night over the West Midlands, the trophy is taken from Mr. Shillcock’s window.
The burglary is clearly a targeted one, with only the FA Cup and the contents of the till drawer being taken – despite sports equipment of much higher value surrounding the famous cup.
The trophy was created for a modest £20 (roughly £1900 in today’s money) by Sheffield’s Martin Hall & Co in 1871. This followed the establishment of the country-wide knockout competition, which in its early days struggled to be recognized outside of London.
For comparison, the Champions League trophy is estimated at around £15,000 in value.
When William Shillcock opens his store at 8AM on the 12th of September to find his shop having been broken into via the roof, and the FA Cup missing.
Detectives attending the scene of the crime concluded that access had been gained through the roof, with a chisel and old putty knife left alongside the obvious damage to the cladding as evidence.
Zinc roof panels had been stripped away with the aforementioned utensils, and the wooden & plaster ceiling had been kicked through by the thieves. It was originally assumed that entry to the roof had been gained via the store’s 12ft exterior wall.
Mr. Shillcock himself offered a £10 reward (around £1600 today) for the trophy, despite his shop being insured for the ‘natural value’ of the cup. This was met with a guaranteed £200 reward for the return of the trophy from the FA themselves.
Despite a near £35,000 reward in today’s money, the cup was never returned.
History of the FA Cup…
The Football Association Challenge Cup is the oldest national footballing competition in the world and comes off the back of the FA publishing the laws of the game in 1863.
Open to all teams within the first 9-tiers of the English football system, it has been played since the 1871/1872 season. The first winner of the coveted silverware was Wanderers Football club.
As mentioned previously, the competition had struggled to gain traction outside of London before the re-imagining of the format and the creation of the famous trophy in 1871.
The FA Cup was in its 24th season when it was stolen from Mr. Shillcock’s shop window in 1895, having been won by the likes of Notts County, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Preston North End amongst many others before it was taken.
And the world wouldn’t know the fate of that infamous missing trophy until over 6 decades later…
Over 60 years later, the footballing world finally got its answer to the thrilling mystery of the missing FA Cup.
In February 1958, the resident of an old people’s home confessed to the Sunday Pictoral (later renamed the Sunday Mirror) to the crime of stealing the FA Cup.
The 80-year-old resident, Harry Burge, would have been a teenager in 1895. Burge went into great detail with the Sunday Pictoral in regards to how the theft was pulled off when he revisited the scene of the crime some 6 decades later.
Burge explains how he and 2 now-deceased accomplices forced a lock on the back door of a vacant shop adjacent to Shillcock’s, and gained access to the shop’s rooftop via an upstairs window. This is contrary to the Police’s initial conclusion that the thieves had scaled the 12ft wall on the outside of the store.
He went on to describe how the trio had then simply kicked through the ceiling above the shop’s front window to gain access to the trophy.
Burge finished by telling how he and his 2 unnamed associates then walked back to his own home on Hospital Street, a few minutes walk away from Mr.Shillcock’s shop. The trio broke up the FA Cup and melted it into an iron pot the next day, and made silver half-crown coins with it.
Some may wonder how anyone could do such a thing to a trophy of such sentimental value, but Harry Burge wasn’t the sentimental type…
Burge was a career criminal and had 42 convictions dating back to 1897. He had spent 46 years and 11 months behind bars.
Harry Burge was regarded as a “chronic thief” and a “danger to the public”. Even at the age of 80, just 3 months after confessing to the theft of the FA Cup, he was charged with taking 3 coats out of a van.
He was put away for 7 years for this crime despite his solicitor requesting leniency due to Burge’s age and health and served around 2 and a half of them before passing away in 1964.
Who were Burge’s accomplices?
Harry Burge never gave the names of his 2 accomplices in the theft of the FA Cup. At the time of his confession, they had already passed away, and he stayed silent about their identities.
However, 11 years following Burge’s death a man named Edwin Tranter told the Birmingham Evening Mail that his own Grandfather, Joseph Piecewright, had stolen the FA Cup!
A further 2 decades pass, and an elderly lady named Violet Stait claimed that her Father in law, John Stait, was also involved in the theft of the famous cup.
Despite it being impossible to validate the claims, with both accomplices having long passed before they were accused, many believe that Joseph Piecewright and John Stait were the final pieces to the puzzle of the theft of the original FA Cup.