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.

News
peopleChildren leave in tears as Santa is caught smoking and drinking
Arts and Entertainment
A host of big name acts recorded 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' in London on Saturday
musicCharity single tops chart
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall has become the eighth celebrity to leave Strictly Come Dancing
tv
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
News
i100
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
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

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin