On the few occasions I've listened to physicist Richard Feynman's famous lectures, he tends to lose me some place a little past his explanation of the motion of the planets. And, its usually at that point, that I realise I'll never get much past the schoolboy physics that delighted me, those many years ago, when a quark was something no more mysterious than a German cheese-cake and a gluon was something which kept a postage-stamp in its album.
So I was rather grateful for Stilian Petrov's little demonstration of aerodynamics last Saturday, which was as instructive as any Christmas lecture I've ever seen. The forty yards of distance between his left boot and the top corner of the Derby net, gave me plenty of time to note the spin, follow the arc and visualize the flow field around the ball, as it took its glorious flight. But obviously, only with the help of multiple replays.
It was easy to see how the whole thing worked, and how the direction of the spin, increased the drag on one side of the ball, while decreasing the drag on the opposite and so producing the wondrous trajectory - the perfect parabola. With a single act of genius Petrov had provided ample material, for a gateway-lecture into dynamic systems. It was just the sort of thing which would have led to some quality time between Richard Feynman and his children but I suspect these days, such an attempt to transmute leisure into yet more school, might invite the intervention of NSPCC.
In an effort to avoid accusations of boring for England, or cold-hearted cruelty to children, most people were just left to wonder, how the flippin' 'eck, did our Bulgarian manage to do such a thing. And for once, a Petrov highlight, was not a feature of his delicately coiffured locks.
It was one of those moments which marked the gulf of talent between the extraordinary genius of the professional sportsman and the mundane skills of the watching fans. It was not the fact that he hit the target, or even the distance (he would have been in his own half on most parks pitches), it was that he had the skill and audacity to deliberately hit across the ball, which gave it its subtle magical flight. Not impossible on the training ground but something special in a competitive (sic) game.
It was a wonderful example of the Great Curve:
It was a demonstration of the art which characterised Le Tissier's game, and before that Glen Hoddle. A le Tissier shot (and too many were against Villa) had all the characteristics of a fine golf-shot, and despite his hefty arse, the power seemed always to be generated more by perfect body-shape and timing than sheer brute-strength. It is easy to see how such an art is more likely to arise out of the repertoire of a midfield player, and their need to manipulate space, rather than a striker like Shearer who operate nearer the goal and needs maximum power, rather than the subtlety of a curler. It was a measure of the genius of Dalglish, that he was one of a few forwards, who perfected the art. Gabby seems to be getting the idea.
As ever my sheer joy at the six-nil was tempered by my sympathy for goalkeeper Roy Carroll, who had rather more than a mare. Its a bit sick-making to see a professional sportsman have his reputation dismantled so thoroughly but Carroll, since his up and down days at Manchester United, must have gotten used to coping with a clanger. And lets face it, he had to cope with more shots than the average star of a bukkake movie.
Obviously, I had no such scruples about the trouncing of a team with Robbie Savage playing in it, and I took substantial pleasure in the realisation, that, that, was the last time I will have to see the snidey little gobshite, line up against Villa. What with Gabby and Marlon scoring text-book goals from the diagonal, and Marlon's movement was superb, plus another captain's contribution from Barry, I had no choice but to get totally pissed come Saturday night; a duty fulfilled manfully and with a great deal of relish.
By kicking-out time I was well in my cups and as I strolled home, warmed by my Saturday Villa glow. I seem to remember singing to myself, 'Villa won six-nil, and I'm totally pissed, nothing's going to stop me, having a quick one off the wrist', or something very similar. For some reason, which is a mystery to me now, I found this little ditty, absolutely hilarious, while in my drink-induced daftness. But anyone concerned about me being on the brink of moral turpitude, will be pleased to know that I fell into a coma, well before I could complete my hedonistic to-do list.
But it was a grand night, I can tell you.
Villa's next opponents, who are celebrated across the land for their services to binge-wanking, promise to be rather more resolute adversaries than the Rams, and such is the tension that surrounds the high-noon encounter this Sunday, that McLeish has been trying to calm his players down all week. Having frustrated Everton last week, Birmingham will offer a stiffer (sic) challenge to Villa, and every Villa fan will expect O'Neill's players to stretch every sinew and make every effort to ensure they get the three points.
I can't say I am looking forward to it, there are too many bad memories and too much at stake for that, but should Villa win well, I might be seeking treatment for carpal-tunnel syndrome come Monday morning.
Once in a lifetime may be good enough for some people but twice in a season is even better.