Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Grand Theft and Wakefield Rugby Club

Earlier this week, when watching my favorite tv channel, Sky Sports News, I came across a bizarre but funny item about the Wakefield Wildcats Rugby League Club. No, they didn’t win a league or cup against huge odds, no player had gotten in trouble off the pitch or shot anyone, and they hadn’t made a big signing either. What had happened?

The entire electronic scoreboard had been stolen.

When I had stopped laughing, I considered that this was quite an impressive feat. The thieves had entered the ground during the night, dislodged the whole thing from one of the stands, and taken it. Now that is impressive. More on the story can be read on this BBC link:

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the scoreboard is urged to contact West Yorkshire police, so if you see someone walking around with a stadium sized electronic scoreboard in a wheelbarrow or the back of a car, please contact the appropriate law enforcement officer.

This news item brought back memories of similar weird and outrageous theft stories I came across in the past, so I decided to make a Top5 of the greatest thefts I have come across in my life.


Item stolen: A garden gnome

Victim: Some guy in England

The thief: Unknown

I read this story about 10 years ago and it really made me laugh. Stealing a garden gnome, in itself, is not much of a feat. They’re easy to get to (they’re out in the open in gardens most of the time), are not big or heavy and the monetary value is low. Dozens, if not hundreds are stolen every weekend. Why this story made the Top5 anyway, is not because it was stolen, but because of what happened after it was stolen. Our victim, whose name got lost in the sands of time, woke up one morning and realised that his beloved garden gnome had been stolen overnight. After the initial shock, and probably a cup of tea, he examined the crime scene and found a little card saying ”Dear owner, I have been in this garden for many years now. It is time for me to leave and see the world. Thank you for your good care over the years. Goodbye, your gnome”

Or words to that effect. The owner decided this was some sort of drunken prank from one of the patrons of the pub across the street, bought a new gnome and thought nothing more of it. Until he started getting postcards from his gnome.

Apparently, some funny man who was about to go on a round-the-world trip, had stolen the garden gnome and taken it with him. The first postcard the owner received was a picture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, with the gnome standing in front of it. The message on the card read something like ‘Aah, Paris, the city of romance’ or something like that and had a greeting from the gnome to the owner. After that, postcards started coming in at regular intervals, with the gnome posing in increasingly exotic locations across the world. Cards featured, among others, the gnome at the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. The gnome then crossed the Pacific Ocean and was found posing at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Great Wall of China and Sydney Opera House. This went on for about a year and, sure enough, one morning the astonished owner found the battered gnome back in his front garden, where it had disappeared a year earlier, with another card saying something like ‘Thank you for my year off, I really needed it’.

I really like this story because it is weird and different and it shows that a lot of people still have a great sense of humour.


Item stolen: Garden furniture

Victim: My parents

The thief: Unknown

Somewhere during an early 90’s summer , I was woken on a Sunday morning by my mum, at some unholy hour like 11am. After enquiering why she had woken me up this early, she informed me that the joke was over and that she wanted me to disclose the location of her belongings. Puzzled, I got out of bed and asked her what she was on about. As we walked in to the garden on this sunny morning, I vaguely registered that something in the garden was not quite right, but I couldn’t exactly make out what it was. After deciding to get a glass of orange juice and sit down to think this over, it suddenly dawned on me that there was no garden furniture. The wheels in my head started turning and it finally came together: all the garden furniture had disappeared and my mum thought that me and my friends had pulled of some drunk joke by hiding it somewhere. It took me about 20 minutes to convince my mum and dad that I really had no idea where the furniture was and either way, I had been drunk the previous night so even if I had intended to steal their furniture, I was in no state to lift anything bigger or heavier than a bottle, so I couldn’t have pulled it off anyway. Considering this, I must admit that this had been quite an impressive case of theft. My parents live in a small town, population 4000, on the outskirts of Rotterdam. Everybody knows everybody else and if you were to steal something as big as garden furniture, word would be out in no time and you would be caught out in a matter of days. I once lifted a case of beer from someones garden shed on a drunken night when we had run out of beer and, sure enough, within a week, I got a phone call from a local police officer, telling me to come over to the station. I was reprimanded for trying to steal someone else’s beer and told not to do it again. That’s the idea of how fast news travels in a town like that, which makes it extra impressive to lift an entire set of garden furniture from someone’s garden. There are two other reason that made this an impressive feat. First, my parents have a pebble path around their house that makes a distinctive noise when you walk on it, especially in the dead of the night.

My mom often said that she had woken up when I came home from the pub, because of the sound of me crossing the pebbles. Second of all, my parents’ house is right next to the police station. The furniture was never seen again and no one has ever had a clue as to who had stolen it. My mom always suspected the window cleaner who, as she argued, had free access to everybody’s garden and knew what was where. Even if she was right, that doesn’t make it any less impressive to steal an entire set of garden furniture, consisting of 4 chairs, a footstool and a 4foot round table from a small town garden that is surrounded by noisy pebbles, under the watching eyes of the police. A worthy number 4 in this list.


Item stolen: The UEFA Cup

Victim: PSV Eindhoven Football Club

The thief: Local comedian Theo Maassen

PSV Eindhoven won the UEFA Cup in 1978. For 10 years it was their biggest trophy, until they won the 1988 European Cup after one of the dullest finals in living memory. The UEFA Cup still stood in their trophy cabinet as one of the clubs biggest achievements. Until 2000 that was, when the trophy all of a sudden went missing. The press had a field day when the news got out and football fans around the country were making jokes about the lack of security and the thickness of the ‘provincials’. (Thereby completely ignoring the fact that Eindhoven is the 5thbiggest city in the country and also the smallest city ever to win the European Cup). Where had the trophy gone? There were no signs of breaking and entering, no security breaches on record and even after searching every inch of the stadium, the club offices and the training ground, the trophy was not found. It had simply vanished on thin air. The issue disappeared from the papers and was left as a strange anecdote in the history of Dutch football. 8 or 9 months later, the story was back in the paper because the cup had been returned. What had happened?

As it turned out, it was local comedian Theo Maassen who had lifted the cup while he was shooting a tv show in the PSV Stadium. As he was shooting the show, he had been given access all areas, and had smuggled the cup out in an equipment case. Being the funny man that he is, Maassen decided not to just give it back to the club, but chose to reveal his secret on national television. In a football panel show, several guests showed off their rare football memorabilia, mostly jerseys from old games, cup medals and other artifacts. Nobody had ofcourse expected Maassen to come up with the actual UEFA Cup, leaving both the show’s hosts and the other guests speachless. The cup was returned to the club shortly after the show, but the club could not appreciate the joke and pressed charges. Eventually, Maassen got off with a couple of days community service, which he performed with a smile on his face.

Theo Maassen 1 PSV 0.


Item stolen: Stadium score board

Victim: Wakefield Wildcats rugby league club

The thief: As yet unknown.

On number 2 in the list, we find the Wakefield rugby score board from the start of the story. One can only wonder how the thieves in this case pulled off this amazing feat. Dislodging a stadium sized scoreboard and disappearing with it, without anyone noticing. I was discussing this issue with a bartender at the Woolshed last weekend and he commented that “If you pull off something like that, the score board is officially yours. It ceases to be property of the club and it is then rightfully yours.”

I must agree. Even though it’s probably something of a nuisance to the club and the fans, I can not conclude anything else than that I think whoever accomplished this should get free beer for at least a year in their local pub.

But, no matter how incredible a feat this may have been, we now reach the first place in our little competition and the winner for the most hilarious theft in history. Please put your hands together for ... Theo.


Item stolen: 6 snooker tables

Victim: Theo, the proprietor of a local snooker hall in Holland

The thief: Officially, this is unknown, but most likely Theo himself.

When I was in high school, there were 3 locations nearby where you could play pool or snooker. One of them was the snooker hall, which was for serious players and had 4 snooker tables and a small bar. Another venue had about a dozen pool tables, a big bar, video games and the best location in the heart of the city. People often went there for a drink or to meet friends without the intention of playing pool. It was as much a social spot as a pool hall.

And then there was Theo’s place. Theo’s place had a bit of both, snooker and pool, and it was conveniently located, literally 30 yards from my school. Consequently, I spent more time in the pool hall than in school, but still managed to pass my central exams, albeit (and I quote the dean of students here) ‘by the smallest margin in the history of the school’. The pool hall was situated in a semi-rough working class area, a grimm neighbourhood with a relatively high unemployment rate and an urban jungle street feel. Lots of boarded up windows, graffiti, cheap appartments, people drinking in the street at 10am, that idea. On the main road through the neighbourhood was Theo’s pool emporium.

Theo’s place, most often simply referred to as ‘the pool hall’, was a right dump. Flyers from parties that had taken place 4 years earlier were still in the window, most pooltables had unidentified stains on the cloth, unmatched, rickety bar stools, a slot machine with a broken window, cracked mirrors, all the characteristics of a full on dive bar were there. But hey, table rent was cheap and the bar opened at 9.30 in the morning so me and my friends could be found there with alarming regularity. The beer was also ridiculously cheap, so that may have been another reason for the constant presence of students at the bar. Behind the bar, Theo ruled with an iron fist. What Theo says goes, was the law of the land and most people obeyed the law. The occasional trouble maker would often find himself out through the door, and by this I mean literally through it. Theo was a 6”5’ hulk of a man, with a receding hairline, permanently unshaven and a look on his face as if somebody has just killed his dog and then ran of with his wife. Still, we spent many an hour in the place, getting drunk on our study grants and playing pool for a couple of bucks per hour. When I graduated from high school, I somehow found myself returning to the place, even though I had nothing left to do in the area and the place was a dump. I guess the cheap beer was still an incentive to return, so I kept playing pool and snooker there on a regular basis. Until one day I found the door closed. I assumed that Theo had had a couple of his cheap beers himself the night before and would open again later, but the doors stayed closed throughout the day. A couple of days later, when I went to visit a friend who was living near there, the door was still closed and a police car was in front of the entrance. Later that week, when I was in the other pool hall (the nice one) I found out what had happened and why Theo’s place was closed. Theo had been robbed.

And not robbed in the street robbery kind of way (no one would dare) but robbed from his pride and livelyhood. All 6 of Theo’s snooker tables had been stolen.

This, ofcourse, went on to be THE talk of the pool playing community in the weeks that followed and no one could surpress a smile when Theo and his disappeared tables came up in conversation.

When I had stopped laughing, it dawned on me what a monumentously stupid claim this was. For those of you who have never played snooker or live outside the sphere of influence of the English speaking world, let me give you some back ground: a tournament size snooker table is a huge thing. It is 6 foot wide, 12 foot long and about 4 foot high. It weighs about 3000 pounds and as I was discussing the matter with the manager of the other snooker hall, he told me that it takes a team of 4 professional snooker table builders at least 2 hours to put one together or take one apart. Mind you, that is 4 experienced professionals who actually know what they are doing, in broad daylight, with all the professional tools that are specific to the snooker table building trade. And that is for 1 table (one).

In Theo’s story, however, a goon squad of villains had broken into his establishment, allegedly somewhere after 2am, when he said he had closed the bar. They had consequently disassembled no less than 6 tournament size snooker tables, put all the parts in a truck or whatever and ran off with it. All of this happened in the time window between 2am and dawn and without anybody noticing a thing even though the pool hall was on the corner of the 2 busiest streets in the area.

The story of Theo’s stolen snooker tables has gone down in local folklore as one of the most ridiculous stories of all time.

Consider this; it is simply physically impossible to even take apart 6 snooker tables in a 4 hour time frame, let alone load everything in a truck and get away with the lot. Then on top of that, 4 of the 6 tables were on the first floor, which made the whole operation even more complicated. And then on top of that, all of the heavy and big parts that make up a snooker table (including the big slabs of stone that make up the playing surface) had been shipped out through a single front door. This all combined makes this claim so outrageous that I happily award Theo with the first prize for the most ridiculous theft of all times.

The story later got out that Theo was in dire need of money because of a huge tax claim that the revenue service had levelled at him for not paying any taxes in the previous 10 or 12 years. Consequently, he ‘most likely’ staged this outrageous operation with the idea of cashing in on his insurance policy. The insurance company, despite it being ridiculously obvious that this was an inside job, could not exactly prove that the tables had NOT been stolen, and eventually threw out his claim on a technicallity (no alarm had gone off and no alert had come in at the security centre during the night the tables were stolen, rendering his claim void).

I have not seen Theo ever since. I would guess that he fled the country and now runs a pool hall in Thailand.