The Scorpion's giant leap for manic kind

Sport on TV

IN THE future, people will say, "Do you remember where you were the night Rene Higuita pulled off the Scorpion?" And people will reply, "Of course. I was watching it on Sportsnight with Barry Davies." (Some will reply, "I was watching it live at Wembley", but given the pathetically small attendance, they will almost certainly be lying.)

It was the start of England's international football season, an occasion of almost complete insignificance. Croatia had pulled out, pleading a slightly more pressing fixture at home, and in stepped Colombia. The night could so easily have degenerated into a basic hair story. For one thing, there was the matter of Gazza's rug: he'd promised to ditch the blond, light-bulb look and one feared the worst - some sort of rapper's crop with the image of a pint of lager razored into it, or maybe an unwittingly offensive tartan dye-job. In fact he went for a back-to-basics black rinse, so recently applied that, when the rain came, one was slightly surprised not to see it running in rivulets down his neck.

The Colombian players, too, are big believers in hair. During the pre- match warm-up, Barry Davies, our commentator for the evening, pointed out Valderrama, "a man who hasn't changed his hairstyle in 10 years of international football". Later, when Davies said "Valderrama - beautifully curled", it took a moment to realise he was referring to a pass. Davies somewhat presciently also recommended that we keep an eye on Higuita, "the eccentric goalkeeper", a portly figure with a shoulder-length cascade of glossy black ringlets who looks like King Charles sponsored by Umbro.

And with that, the game was under way. It was a credit to Terry Venables' young but fast-maturing side that they managed to adapt swiftly to Colombia's possessive style and also to remain undistracted by the overriding impression that they were playing against Aerosmith. Everything seemed to be shaping up well when, half an hour in, Higuita hit the launch button and made the rest of the game a formality.

On reflection, these were perhaps not the ideal conditions in which to attempt unassisted flight. There was soft but consistent rain and an early- September chill in the breeze. But as the ball floated goalwards, Higuita watched it all the way, before springing forwards, flipping up his legs and pinging it back off his heels. The expressions on his face were a joy to behold: not simply the enormous delighted grin he wore as he landed, but also, seconds later, a completely unperturbed look, as if the incident had never happened - a sign, if not of madness, then certainly of the possibility for richly interesting mood swings.

Barry Davies couldn't believe his eyes. "Unreal!" he said, from somewhere inside an astonished laugh. "A character in every sense," he added. "It's amazing they managed to keep him in jail for four months." This was a reference to Higgy's recent arrest on a kidnapping charge. (Simply in terms of criminal records, the Colombians made the home side look flat- footed and flairless. The best England could field was Tony Adams - drink- driving - and Dennis Wise - altercation with cabby and cab, case dismissed.)

"Goalkeepers are crazy," Des Lynam said afterwards, "but this one . . ." And words failed him. "All goalkeepers are crazy," Jimmy Hill told Des just a couple of minutes later. "But this one . . ." And then words failed him, too. With the benefit of time, we can more clearly articulate the significance of that giant leap. Higuita will go down as the first man in history to make table football appear to have any relation whatsoever to the real thing.

"Obviously," Terry Venables told Ray Stubbs in the tunnel afterwards, "the only thing we was short of was goals." Obviously, any sentence beginning with the word "obviously" is about to say something obvious. Tel went on: "We're on target for where we are, I think." This too was hard to dispute. But not until David Seaman can pull off a Scorpion can England be expected to be taken seriously as an international footballing force in the fullest sense.

Before the match, Frank Bruno, the new heavyweight champion of the world (or one of them, at any rate) dropped in to the Sportsnight studio to chat to Des about his victory over Oliver McCall. Frank, in a magnificent blue suit, admitted that it had been tough but reckoned he had survived by refusing to get wound up by his opponent's tactics - not least of all what Frank called "the verbal things he was saying". "I had to duck and dive, bob and weave, grab, y'norrowamean? Waltz him, show him me Ginger Rogers steps and everything, y'norrowamean?" Des asked Frank to show the championship belt to the camera. "Cheers, nice one, Des," said Frank. "You've got it upside down, by the way," said Des.

Frank then thanked as many people as he could think of, including his wife and family, God, all of his fans and the man from Sportsnight who had sent him the fax asking him to come on the show. "Very nice," said Frank. Shortly after this, Frank thanked his manager for getting the fight shown on Sky. This possibly wasn't an entirely tactful thing to say while sitting inside the BBC sports department, but nobody seemed to mind. No one says verbal things quite like Frank.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?