The Famous Night when a Sheffield team secured the European Cup

Peter Darling and colleagues find the stolen European Cup, May 1982

With the Champions League starting tonight I thought it was a good time to remember the time 36 years ago when the European Cup was played for on West Street. Peter Darling tells the story:

“It was gone 2am, and I was on patrol in Sheffield city centre; I was a duty sergeant with South Yorkshire police. It had been a quiet night; they generally were, midweek. The pubs threw out at 11pm and there were only one or two clubs in town back then.

The call came as my partner and I walked down West Street: “Sarge, are you free? You might want to come back to the station. A young bloke calling himself Eric Sykes has just walked in with the European Cup.”

The evening before, Aston Villa had won the trophy, beating Bayern Munich in Rotterdam. I’d watched it on television. I wondered if I was being pranked. My immediate instinct was to say, “Righto, son – and who am I? Franz Beckenbauer?” But curiosity got the better of me and I went back. And sure enough, there it was.
By all accounts, this kid “Eric” had been at a pub in Tamworth, near Birmingham, when a couple of the Villa players had turned up with the trophy; I think it was their local. They’d shown the cup to everyone, then stuck it on a table while they had a few pints.

Later on, there was a commotion. Eric’s version was that a few people in the pub, himself included, had taken exception to the players’ bad language so, while no one was looking, he walked out with the cup.

I don’t know what possessed him to do it; I don’t think he knew himself, really. But at some point he started to realise that he’d be the most wanted man in Europe. He’d been a student in Sheffield and, for whatever reason, he drove up here, with the cup in his boot, to hand it in.

By the time I got back, the trophy was in our control room. It looked incongruous sitting there on the desk, the Aston Villa ribbons still tied to it. Half the officers on the shift were crowded around the thing. They were taking it in turns to lift it up, and I had a go, too. Well, it was the European Cup – how could you resist? We all wanted a picture but, back then, no one had a camera on them all the time. We had to call in a scenes-of-crime officer and tell him to bring his. Eric was held for questioning by the desk sergeant.
In the end, detectives from CID, the criminal investigation department, ended up dealing with the situation. They phoned West Midlands police, who weren’t picking up. Someone down there eventually answered and said, “We’re busy – we’ve got a major incident.” Our lad went, “I think we can help you with that.”

They sent a car to pick up the trophy and Eric. That wasn’t his real name, although I never did find out what it was. He wasn’t charged with anything.

I went back on patrol, but the story is that a few of the lads took a break, organised an impromptu football match, and played for the cup. Even now, when I see it on the television, I get a buzz. How many people can say they’ve lifted the European Cup?

After a match in the police garage, the winning Sheffield team pose with the cup

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