With the 30th anniversary of English football's most famous day falling on 30 July, a frantic search was launched for the ball with which Geoff Hurst scored a hat-trick when Alf Ramsey's team beat Germany 4-2 in the World Cup final.
According to the Sun, after exhaustive inquiries by them the ball was found in the cellar of Jurgen Haller, son of Helmut who was in the German side at Wembley 30 years ago. Apparently Haller Snr, who scored the first goal of the game, snaffled the ball at the final whistle, stuffed it up his jumper and took it back to Germany before you could say Kenneth Wolstenholme.
Over the years Haller has always evaded the issue, hinting that the ball was lost and betraying an extreme reluctance to part with his souvenir. But after persistent badgering from British journalists it seemed he had finally given in and was prepared to hand the ball over to the Sun in exchange for a token donation to charity.
"I kept the ball at home," said Haller Jnr, now a 34-year-old insurance salesman who lives in Augsburg. "It was not lost - it's been with me for the last 30 years. It was loaned twice to companies to go on exhibition. It was hard to part with because it was a personal memento, but now I have decided to give it to my father."
However, by the time Haller Snr flew in to Heathrow last night it appeared that the Sun had been dispossessed by the Daily Mirror, who were reported to have made Haller a substantial offer for the ball, believed to be in the region of pounds 80,000. Haller arrived without the ball, saying that it would be here later today with his son.
"They [journalists] kept pestering me," Haller Snr had said. "They have been phoning me for the last three days. They kept saying that the ball belonged to England. But I told them it belonged to me. I did not steal the ball. The ball was lying at my feet, so I took it in my hand and ran towards the Queen. After that I took it home with me."
But in a further twist to a tale that is already an epic in the making, it emerged last night that the ball may not be in the Hallers' court after all.
Hurst's agent, Dave Davies, is still expecting the ball to be presented on Tuesday at an official 30th anniversary show in Leamington Spa by a German from Dusseldorf whom he simply knows as "Wolfgang".
His father, Davies said, had apparently bought the ball at an auction in Germany some years ago and Davies received a call on Wednesday morning, asking when it would be possible to present the ball to Hurst. "Everyone's saying they've got the ball, but as far as I'm concerned I'm still expecting to see the real one on Tuesday," Davies said.
Davies also claimed he had been contacted by someone from Sky Sports saying that they had the real ball, although a spokesman for the satellite television company denied all knowledge of it. Meanwhile an official from Fifa, the governing body of world football, said: "The ball belongs to us."
Hurst, who was unavailable for comment yesterday after accepting an offer from the Sun which he apparently could not refuse, had previously said: "At the time, you don't realise what a big occasion it is, you don't realise how important it would have been to snatch the ball. It would be something lovely to keep as a huge memento of a great day."
The hunt is now on for other items that were lost in the mayhem of that day in 1966, including Martin Peters' shirt and Bobby Charlton's hair.Reuse content