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A Celtic shock? Go figure

I know a guy who does statistical analysis on football for a living.

Tony Watt's goal set the seal on a famous Celtic victory Photograph: SNS
Tony Watt's goal set the seal on a famous Celtic victory Photograph: SNS

In his world, a stunning Zlatan Ibrahimovic overhead kick or a mazy run and spectacular finish from Gareth Bale are no different than Grant Holt bundling the ball over the line with his backside following an almighty pinball-fest in a packed penalty area: they all count the same.

So, armed with all his consummate quantitative evidence, he had already figured out that the long, unlikely odds of Celtic stopping the Barcelona juggernaut in its tracks last Wednesday night were not altogether stacked against Neil Lennon's band of brothers.

"I wasn't surprised," he said, commenting on the night's upset, which some described as the second greatest night in the history of the Parkhead club.

"I gave them a 7% chance of winning ahead of the game. These things happen in football. And I looked at the way the game went and it matched my prediction. Barcelona had 84% possession and 25 shots on goal."

Talk about sucking the joy and life out of football. That's all he could say about one of the most dramatic nights in Celtic's recent football history?

Wasn't it a stunning performance? Didn't Lennon and his men raise their game against an opponent whose resources massively dwarf theirs? Not to mention having someone called Lionel Messi in their ranks.

"I'm not sure Celtic did raise their game that much," he said. "I don't know how much empirical evidence there is that Celtic necessarily played better against Barcelona than they did in other Champions League games. It's just that they outscored the opposition. But if you look at the performance it rather matched what we know.

"Barcelona have more resources and therefore better players. But football is a low-scoring game, that's why you get games like this. Celtic's win wasn't the likeliest outcome, but it was well within the realm of possibility. In fact, as I said, if you played this game one hundred times I'd expect Celtic to win seven of them."

Rationally, you can see where my friend is coming from. BATE Borisov beat Bayern Munich. Ajax defeated Manchester City. Last year, APOEL reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

If it's possible for a Cypriot team with an attendance of around 7500 and a wage bill less than one fifth as big as Celtic's to reach Europe's final eight, is it so surprising that the Bhoys might overcome Barcelona?

Emotionally, of course it's a different story. Factor in the 125th anniversary of the club's founding, the noise of a passionate crowd, the colours, the unfolding storyline and you'd have to be a frigid, unfeeling Grinch to not be moved.

That said, even within the cold, hard numbers there is some comfort. And that is the fact that outcomes are not pre-determined by budgets and wage bills and high-faluting names.

Celtic didn't beat Barcelona because they worked that much harder or better than they usually do.

Nor did they win because Barcelona were that much worse. They won because this is a contest, not a science. Pure and simple. And the underdog always has a chance. Which is part of the reason why we love this game.

I suspect it's fair to say that few in the world of football were familiar with Peter Herbert until very recently. A barrister, former member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, he's been campaigning for civil rights for several decades, but only now is he tackling football.

First, he waded in to the John Terry/Kick It Out boycott row, suggesting there could be a breakaway black players' union as a result of growing ethnic dissatisfaction.

And now he is vowing to make a formal complaint to the Metropolitan Police if he hears anyone chanting "Yid Army" at White Hart Lane.

Tottenham, of course, have long had ties to the Jewish community in North London. Many Spurs fans nickname their club "The Yids". And you can buy unofficial Spurs mechandise with the Star of David and the words "Yid Army" outside the ground.

"We are not going to let go on this," Herebert said. "[Soon there will be] the potential that people will get a criminal conviction.

"If they want to run that risk then fine. Their love of football is greater than their desire to deal with anti-Semitism."

Herbert, naturally will be accused of being a publicity-seeking buffoon. After all, if you're calling yourself – rather than someone else – a "Yid", what's the harm, right? Fans of Ajax, another club with Jewish roots, like to refer to themselves as "The SuperJews", so what's the big deal?

Personally, when it comes to free speech, I'm a near-absolutist.

Apart form threats, defamation, incitement to violence or crime and stuff that's patently dangerous (like the classic shouting of "Fire!" in a crowded cinema) anything goes. I realise though that this falls foul of the law of the land and I can respect that.

But Herbert is on to something and anyone who has been to a Spurs or Ajax game has probably seen it.

In a heated stadium environment, the reaction to a bunch of guys calling themselves "Yids" or "SuperJews" too often spills over into the anti-Semitic, whether it's hissing Zyklon B nosies or standard skinhead fare.

And that's where it gets a lot less clear-cut. If a bunch of (mostly) non-Jews adopt Jewish symbols which enflame the opposition and lead to anti-Semitic reactions, then, as far as the non-Jews shouting "Yid Army" is concerned, it's water off a duck's back.

But for any Jew present, whether Spurs supporting or not, the fact is it's a distinctly unpleasant experience.

The easy solution is to allow Spurs fans to call themselves Yids and simply crack down on those who respond with anti-Semitism. Yet is it fair or desirable to simply create so many more opportunities for anti- Semitism to manifest itself?

Especially when so many of those who use the term "Yids" aren't Jewish, but have simply adopted the term as part of their weekend entertainment.

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