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.

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas