Dangerous smiling. I'm afraid you'll have to go off for that, son

On a red card from the referee in the sky
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The Independent Online
I HAVE witnessed some memorable contests - but there is a special place in my heart for one which took place far from any recognised sporting arena.

It happened last July at Munich Airport, the day after I had reported on Britain's victory in the European Cup for athletics.

The first inkling of anything out of the ordinary, as far as I and my fellow passengers bound for Stansted were concerned, came as we waited in the bus which was to take us to our plane.

Everybody in the passenger lounge had come through, but the bus remained stationary. The reason soon became apparent, as a number of unusual individuals strolled out to complete the party.

Their dress code was informal - combat trousers, leather jackets, wraparound shades. The hair colours ranged from cropped black to day-glo green.

The last person to make his jaunty way on made his mates look like Young Conservatives. He was small, with hair dyed green-yellow at the sides, and a brown and yellow plait down the centre. There was an intensity about him which struck a faint but not immediately recognisable chord in my memory.

Was that nose jewellery? Yes. And tongue jewellery? Of course, the mad bloke from The Prodigy, looked like a devil with horns on the Top of the Pops video... Firestarter... Whatsisname....?

The name was provided by a stage whisper from a goggle-eyed teenager standing nearby. "That's Keith Flint," he said to his friend. "That's The Prodigy."

The reference seemed lost on the businessman who stared fiercely at the techno superstars over his copy of Frankfurter Allgemeine. We were indeed late. And we were about to get later.

I found myself seated one place in front of Mr Flint, with two of the other group members across the aisle. As we awaited take-off, a man whom I subsequently discovered to be from Rolling Stone magazine began interviewing one of them, who interspersed brief replies with lengthy stares out of the window.

From behind, I heard the quiet but unmistakable voice of Keith Prodge - as he is invariably known in the magazines my eight-year-old daughter has begun to read.

"Did you see that guard on the way through? Yeah? He gave me... a dangerous smile..."

His comment did not seem to be addressed to anyone in particular. But he was clearly taken with his final image, and began to sing it to himself with a series of experimental emphases. "He gave me a... DANgerous smile... He gave me a dangerous SMIle..."

One or two passengers turned their heads. One or two stared fixedly ahead of them, the same thought running through their heads. "Take off... take off... take off..."

But the plane had not shifted and now the steward - a Scotsman no bigger than Keith Prodge himself - was making his way primly down the aisle towards the dyed and pierced one.

"Are you going to be all right, sir?" he enquired. "What?" "I just wondered if you were going to be all right on the plane, sir. Because you seem a little... hyper." The reply was unintelligible, but it had the effect of sending the steward back up to the cockpit. Air UK steward 0 Keith Prodge 1.

The interview across the way continued. The green-haired band member yawned and opened a novel. And that little, whimsical voice continued. "He gave me a dangerous smile... he gave me... a DANGEROUS SMI-YUL."

Still the plane stood. Then, in the distance, there came the sound of sirens. Two policeman, both armed with sub-machine guns, came aboard. One stared fixedly down the aisle, then slid his face out of view.

They were as low-key about the whole thing as people bearing machine- guns can be. But the steward was outraged. "He insulted me," exclaimed the frenzied, blazered person, pointing at the dyed, pierced person. "He told me to f- off. No one tells me to f- off. I don't have to take that. I'm not going to take that. I want him off. OFF!"

If Air UK stewards had been issued with red cards, he would have brandished one at that moment. Instead, he pointed one trembling finger at the door.

The other band members took Keith's part. "Leave it out!" "I don't believe this!" "This is a joke, right?"

I ventured the opinion that our man with the nose jewellery had done nothing outrageous, and that the plane would and should have taken off quarter of an hour earlier had the steward not taken it upon himself to create a confrontation.

The trembling finger turned on me. "You didn't have to put up with what I had to put up with!" he shouted. "You weren't the one who was told to f- off!"

The machine-gunned, uniformed ones began to take what I felt was an unhealthy interest in our discussion, and I decided, quite swiftly, to shut up. There was no doubt about what the final score was going to be in this particular tourney.

Despite the band manager's pleas, and despite the startingly mild protests of the one the tabloids call "Wild Man" - "This isn't fair. This is really unfair" - the diminutive singer was marched off the plane under armed guard. Air UK steward 2, Keith Prodge gone.

The British Airport Authorities went one better when we finally reached Stansted. Not two, but three armed police detained the rest of the band on board until everyone else had left. It was just as well - one of them had taken off his shoes on the flight over, and another had been drinking tomato juice laced with Worcester Sauce.