Medals lost, found, given and returned

Around many parts of the world, now is the season for trophies and medals. Club competitions are coming to an end, while international tournaments arrive, with the victors rewarded with a memento around the neck. However, every now and then these honours can go on unexpected journeys, be they short detours, long absences or even end up in the hands of an awestruck onlooker.

Victory in the UEFA Champions League final saw Real Madrid’s stars rewarded for continental success last night, joining Auckland City and America at the FIFA Club World Cup, but they would have been wise to keep one eye on the lump of gold round their neck. Four years ago, only luck saw two of Bayern Munich’s big names not see their own prize vanish in record time.

Incredible television footage captures the moment when, as the trophy was held aloft, Mario Mandzukic’s medal comes loose from the ribbon around his neck, only for Franck Ribery’s lightning-quick reactions to stop it disappearing down into the crowd below. Jerome Boateng, a few metres away, was – initially at least – less fortunate.

" all laughing in the dressing room when I said I lost my medal, when I saw I had my necklace but no medal," Boateng said. "Because I was like screaming, where's my medal? Who took it? They all looked to me. They saw the necklace without it. They laughed at me, and they said 'Oh, go search, my friend.'"

He gave up hope, assuming his had suffered a similar fate to Mandzukic’s, though without the reflexes of a Frenchman to save him. However, he was only half right as, a few hours later, Sports Illustrated journalist Nick Zaccardi – on the hunt for souvenirs – stumbled across it amongst the confetti where the German international had held the trophy earlier that night. Some detective work reunited player and medal, though incredibly this had happened to Boateng before, while at Hertha Berlin. That time he wasn’t so lucky.

Whoever caught them has a great souvenir. Unless they put it on eBay and make a fortune.

Manchester United’s Jesper Blomqvist similarly had his Champions League celebrations back in 1999 halted in the search of a medal gone walkabout – “I was scared but I found it in the end”. While, in Scotland, Kenny Dalglish had to call on help from the law to recover his, ultimately found in an umbrella. “I lost my winners’ medal in the midst of the celebration when it fell out of the box,” he recalled. “Luckily a policeman found it and gave it back to me.”

Across in South America, Uruguayan great Enzo Francescoli actually saw his bit of history disappear right before his eyes. Having missed out on Copa Libertadores glory with River Plate in 1986, he made amends a decade late. But the club legend’s night took a sour turn when, having hoisted the trophy aloft, a fan grabbed his medal from around his neck – all of which was caught on camera.

Fortunately, his loss was short-lived. "In the middle of this crazy happiness, while everyone was crying, I was concerned about my medal,” the two-time South American Footballer of the Year said. “But I think the rumour went around because, as I was walking to the dressing room, a guy shouted me from the entrance to the tunnel: 'I have your medal but I want something in return'. I couldn't believe it. I gave him my shin pads, they were the only thing I had left.”

Gifts of global gold A fellow legend in Argentina, Carlos Bilardo, incredibly chose not to even pick up his 1986 FIFA World Cup medal, because he was so angry about conceding two goals from corners in the final. “ have my World Cup winner's medal, just my runners-up one,” he told “I gave my winner's medal to a colleague who worked with me in '86. These are things I really regret now.”

Thirty years later, Germany 2006 winner Daniele De Rossi similarly gave his medal to a colleague, though in particularly touching fashion. A decade after lifting the trophy, he placed his prized souvenir from Berlin in the coffin of Italy kit-man Pietro Lombardi, known as Spazzolino (Toothbrush), during the 92-year-old’s funeral, with the Roma midfielder not saying a word as to why.

Every player at a World Cup receives a participation medal and, while not a winner at France 1938, Brazilian forward and top scorer Leonidas shone with seven goals. On what would have been his 100th birthday, his widow sought to find a fitting way to honour his memory. “I had thought of creating a memorial here in the apartment,” she wrote in a Sao Paulo newspaper, “a kind of ‘Leônidas house’. But I could never find anyone to provide the funds.” With no idea what to do, the FIFA Museum came to the rescue. With the help of an old telephone book, and a trip to visit her, his medal now happily resides amongst some of the World Cup’s greatest artefacts.

Medals have been known to find their way into hands of others in a much more heat of the moment manner than that, most famously when Jose Mourinho threw his for winning 2005/06 English Premier League into the Chelsea crowd during their celebrations. He then went one better, getting another and throwing that into the crowd too. "The medal was for everybody but the person who caught it is lucky,” he said. “Whoever caught them has a great souvenir. Unless they put it on eBay and make a fortune." They didn’t go on eBay, but they have since been auctioned off for a combined £38,400 ($56,000).