Sport on TV: Joe the Pole and Pickles trounce Gabby and the touchline twerps

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The Independent Online

According to Who Stole the World Cup? (Channel 4, Tuesday), within hours of the trophy being stolen from the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, where it was guest of honour at a stamp exhibition, a Fen-church Street silversmith had been commissioned in secrecy to fashion a replica. And, we're told, while Nobby Stiles sat in the Wembley dressing-room cradling that 12 inches of solid gold that meant England were champions of the world, a member of Her Majesty's filth sidled up to him, said, "I'll take that," took it, and handed him the fake.

And that was that for four years, until the real thing was surrendered to the Mexicans for the 1970 finals.

Who Stole... was a splendid Ealing comedy of a documentary about the shenanigans that went on between old Jules disappearing and Pickles the dog sniffing him out from under a south London bush. You half expected to discover it was the Lavender Hill Mob all along.

It had a colourful cast: flamboyant cat burglar Peter Scott; legendary lock-picker Johnny the Bosh; hard-boiled detective Len Buggy and his bungling young sidekick; and the supposed mastermind, Joe the Pole ("ex-spy, walked with a limp").

I've always had a hunch that Pickles' owner, Dave Corbett, was mixed up in it, and I'm not the only one.

He laughs: "No, I didn't steal the World Cup." He did OK, though. The reward paid for his house, where he still lives; his canine benefactor is buried in the garden.

For others it proved a curse: Joe Mears, the chairman of the Football Association who conducted negotiations to get it back until he fell ill with angina, didn't recover and died 10 days before the World Cup started. His contact, the petty crook Edward Betchley, did two years for demanding money with menaces then died of emphysema in 1969. Pickles went in '67, hanged by his own lead up a tree while chasing a cat.

The original was stolen in Rio in 1983 and probably melted down. Fifa bought the replica when it came up for auction a few years ago with a reserve price of £30,000. Keith Cooper, their director of communications, secured it for £254,000. "How do I tell the boss that?" he said.

I've written lately in praise of David Pleat, for his clear-sighted punditry on ITV. And on Wednesday, during the European Cup final, he was as reliable as ever - until, like Jens Lehmann, he produced a howler.

With 15 minutes to go, Pleat was upbeat. "At last the clocks seem to be going quicker," he said. "The sight is in end." The sight is in end?

We were off into some delirious realm where Ronnie Barker makes the rules of grammar: "And the net is in the ball! And the magic's done boy! Interesting... Interesting very! Some pitches are on the people! They over it's all think! Is now it!"

The back-up was ITV's usual dog's dinner, with Ally McCoist and Andy Townsend stuck on the touchline like twerps. Upstairs, Gabby Logan, who'd come straight from competing in the World Eye Make-up Championships, played spot-the-idea with Terry Venables.

Logan's technique is brutally simple. Sound like you've got a pressing appointment elsewhere - back at the Slapdome for the mascara heats, presumably - while waiting for your "expert" to start saying something vaguely intelligent. Then cut him off.

Not that Venables has much to offer. It wasn't so much the beautiful and the damned as the made-up and the washed-up. They were scheduled to bang on till 10.30, but ITV thought better of it, cut them short and stuck on TV's Naughtiest Blunders. They should really have included Lehmann's.

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