THE MISSING TROPHY
It’s rugby league’s greatest mystery. How did the original World Cup go missing for 20 years?
Australia had just won the 1970 World Cup and arrived back to its base at the Midland Hotel in Bradford. The original trophy – now named in honour of former French rugby league president Paul Barriere – was on display in the 19th-century building. Then it got nicked.
British sports historian Tony Collins has looked into it but couldn’t say how or why. “It disappeared sometime after the team arrived back and were celebrating.
“Was it drunken hijinks or stolen by an opportunistic thief? We don’t know.”
The police got involved, and the Rugby Football League put out some inquiries. In another sporting history quirk, the soccer World Cup also disappeared when it was in England in 1966. Losing trophies isn’t a new phenomenon for the British.
Whereas the soccer World Cup was recovered in a matter of weeks, the rugby league trophy disappeared for two decades.
Local man Stephen Ottley found it by chance in a ditch in Bingley, 10km north of the Midland Hotel.
Ottley didn’t know what he’d found and took it to the local newspaper. By chance, rugby league historian Trevor Delaney saw it mentioned in the paper and told the RFL about the article.
It seems unthinkable to take two decades to recover an iconic piece of sporting silverware. Collins says people viewed the importance of sporting heritage differently back then.
“The way that people viewed the heritage of sport in the ’60s and ’70s was very different to today,” he said. “It wasn’t that important. Perhaps they [the RFL] thought that if they paid too much attention to it, they’d undermine their ability to attract other sponsors.”