Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

Regrettably. Momentarily. Obviously. I think we pretty much know the story from these key words, don't we?

But let us just remind ourselves of the statement currently on the Team Sky website regarding the Tour de France trophy won in July by their very own Geraint Thomas and, it was revealed this week, stolen after being on display at the Cycle Show at the NEC in Birmingham from September 28 to 30.

Team Sky said they had loaned the Coupe Omnisports trophy to their Italian bike manufacturer Pinarello for them to put on show alongside the Vuelta a España and Giro d'Italia trophies currently held respectively by fellow Britons Simon Yates of the Mitchelton-Scott team and Thomas' team-mate Chris Froome.

"Regrettably, during the clear-up operation at the end of the event, Geraint Thomas' Tour de France trophy was momentarily left unattended and stolen," read the statement.

"The matter is obviously now subject to a police investigation.

"In the meantime, Team Sky are liaising with all relevant parties to agree on the best course of action to resolve the issue."

West Midlands Police said the trophy is believed to have been taken sometime between 6.30pm and 7.30pm local time on September 29.

Richard Hemington, managing director of Pinarello, said the company had apologised to Thomas.

He added: "We are obviously devastated about this. We accept full responsibility. Obviously we all hope that the trophy can be recovered."

In this context, "momentarily" is an interesting word to use.

Team Sky's Geraint Thomas holds the now stolen Coupe Omnisports trophy after securing the Tour de France title in Paris on July 29 ©Getty Images
Team Sky's Geraint Thomas holds the now stolen Coupe Omnisports trophy after securing the Tour de France title in Paris on July 29 ©Getty Images  

We can infer from it that those responsible for the security of this cherished item did, by and large, a great job, protecting the trophy minute-by-minute and hour-by-hour up to the point it was taken.

If you look at the task in terms of percentages, it was an overwhelming success.

But as Brian Clough once - almost - observed, it only takes a second to score an own-goal.

Thomas, who is the third Briton after Froome and former Team Sky rider Bradley Wiggins to win the Tour de France, has made a very touching appeal in the wake of this incident, commenting: "It is incredibly unfortunate that this has happened.

"It goes without saying that the trophy is of pretty limited value to whoever took it, but means a lot to me and to the Team.

"Hopefully whoever took it will have the good grace to return it.

"A trophy is important, but clearly what matters most are the amazing memories from this incredible summer - and no-one can ever take those away."

That is, happily, true. But this is a peculiarly personal loss for the Welshman as the Coupe Omnisports trophy was his and his alone.

Tour winners in recent years have each received a version of this elegantly proportioned trophy which is hand-made at the porcelain factory in Sèvres, on the banks of the Seine and 13 kilometres south-west of central Paris.

Earlier this year cycling magazine Rouleur witnessed work being painstakingly completed on the version which was destined for Thomas. "A young woman, who has undergone the three-year in-house ceramicist training, is patiently burnishing the gold rim of the very trophy that will be held aloft on the podium in the Champs-Elysées," the magazine said.

"She will spend the next seven hours rubbing with absolute precision, using precious stone to produce the highly-polished sparkle of the finished article."

This is far from being the first occasion on which a sporting trophy of high distinction has been stolen.

If history is anything to go by - and in truth, what else have we? - it could yet turn up sooner rather than later. Or later rather than sooner.

It may perhaps be discovered by a dog. Or returned shamefacedly to a police station.

Or it might never be seen again.

The latter fate befell the Jules Rimet Trophy awarded to the winners of football's World Cup until 1970, after which Brazil, having won it three times, were allowed to keep it. This task was managed for 13 years, until a gang broke into the Brazilian Football Confederation office and, after incapacitating the nightwatchman, stole the item that had been most recently brandished on high in the high altitude of Mexico City - after which it vanished into more thin air.

Pelé brandishes the Jules Rimet trophy after Brazil earned the right to keep it with a third World Cup final win in 1970 - but in 1983 it was stolen and has not been seen since ©Getty Images
Pelé brandishes the Jules Rimet trophy after Brazil earned the right to keep it with a third World Cup final win in 1970 - but in 1983 it was stolen and has not been seen since ©Getty Images  

Seventeen years earlier, a few months before the start of the 1966 World Cup finals in England, the same trophy had gone missing from a temporary display in London at an exhibition organised in Westminster City Hall by Stanley Gibbons' stamp company.

As you might expect, the World Cup was the main attraction at the event, guarded by two uniformed police officers and two plainclothes officers, along with additional guards within the hall.

Despite all this manpower, when guards made a circuit of the hall soon after noon on Sunday, March 20 they discovered that, ahem, how to put this, regrettably, momentarily…

A ransom call was later made to the Football Association by a man who called himself "Jackson", demanding £15,000 ($20,000/€17,000). He was later apprehended as he made contact to collect the money, and was identified as Edward Betchley, a petty thief and used car dealer who had previously been convicted of theft and receiving stolen goods.

Betchley, who denied stealing the Cup, was later convicted of demanding money with menaces with intent to steal, and received a two year sentence.

On March 27, David Corbett, walking his dog Pickles, was returning to his house on Beulah Hill in London. Pickles began snuffling at a package lying under the hedge. Lo, wrapped in newspaper and string, it was the Jules Rimet Trophy, which was soon on display again at Gyspy Hill police station.

Pickles briefly became a celebrity, and appeared on TV and in some movies before his death in 1967. Corbett attended the players' celebration dinner after the World Cup Final, and later received rewards totalling £6,000 ($8,000/€7,000) which was, incidentally, £5,000 ($6,600/€5,700) more than each England player received by way of a winners' bonus.

Four years after the Pickles Redemption, the Rugby League World Cup was stolen from a Bradford hotel, six days before the World Cup final was due to be played. The trophy - which had been on display at the hotel being used by defending champions Australia - was found in a ditch, minus its plinth, 20 years later by Bradford resident Stephen Uttley and his wife, Elizabeth, and found its way back to the Rugby Football League.

The Uttleys have joined Pickles as saving graces in the annals of stolen sporting trophies. Aston Villa FC are there for more unfortunate reasons.

In September 1895, following Villa's victory over West Bromwich Albion in the final, the original FA Cup was taken from the window of William Shillcock's football equipment shop in Newtown Row, Birmingham.

It was never recovered and Villa were fined the then significant sum of £25 ($33/€28).

In 1958, 83-year-old Harry Burge, a known petty criminal in the Birmingham area, claimed that he had stolen the trophy and melted it down to make fake coins.

Villa's cup record took another significant knock in 1982, shortly after they had beaten Bayern Munich 1-0 in the European Cup final.

Aston Villa, wearing the shirts of vanquished Bayern Munich, celebrate winning the European Cup in 1982. It went missing in a pub a few weeks later, but was thankfully returned to a police station soon after ©Getty Images
Aston Villa, wearing the shirts of vanquished Bayern Munich, celebrate winning the European Cup in 1982. It went missing in a pub a few weeks later, but was thankfully returned to a police station soon after ©Getty Images  

Full-back Colin Gibson and midfielder Gordon Cowans had taken the giant trophy to the Fox Inn, near Tamworth, but let Gibson tell the tale...

"We used to go out and take the European Cup where we could to show it to the fans and let them have their pictures taken with it," he said.

"Gordon and I had a few drinks and we were playing a competitive darts match when someone turned round and said 'the cup's gone, it's been stolen'.

"At the time you didn't really realise what was happening. All I can remember is dread and trying to block it out as if it didn't really happen."

At least it was a competitive darts match and not just some pick-up game...

Thankfully for Gibson's psyche, the trophy soon turned up 100 miles away in Sheffield, where it was handed in by a man who called himself Mr Sykes.

So the message seems clear for any winners of sporting trophies - brandish them on the day, then put them safely away.

One final example of what can happen when this simple rule is not followed. In 1975, the Argentinian team Rosario Central put on display at their club the magnificent golden and bejeweled Jakarta Cup which they had won after defeating the Indonesian national team and the famous Portuguese side Benfica.

Guess what? Someone stole it. But they did leave in its place a fake version, reportedly made of "glossy paper and glitter". 

Whether this was just a little joke or an attempt to buy a little time was not clear. Nor was the whereabouts of the trophy - until, at least, the late 80s, when it was returned, mysteriously, minus a few of its diamonds…