Every goal, every game, and near enough every recent footballing moment is now readily available at our fingertips. In this day and age, social media is saturated with clips and commentaries from the weekend’s sporting action. Twenty years ago, however, it was all so simple…
Before the social media bubble ballooned and technology thrust us into the future of sports consumption, millions of people up-and-down the country received their dose of football drama, in text format. CEEFAX. The precursor to the modern “Red Button” was exactly what it claimed to be: here, you will “see facts”. No sound, no video highlights, no commentary, just scores, scorers and red cards. ‘Shout if you see our score update!’ – a revolving panel of four pages would then govern the next 120 minutes of your day.
There was something bizarrely thrilling about waiting for your team’s page to come back around. You’re at 0-0 in the eighty-eighth minute and the page changes again, starting its minute-long revolution through the day’s fixtures. Friends and family would flock around the television set waiting for the smallest movement. Your eyes would be glued to the screen, longing and begging for your page to come back, and when it does, a cheer would erupt. A straightforward and unembellished 1-0 with a name and a time beneath it. Your entire source of information contained in just two little lines.
No sound, no video highlights, no commentary, just scores, scorers and red cards.
Nowadays, you watch Gillette Soccer Saturday, where the electrifying canter of words flowing from the presenter’s mouth gives a huge sense of urgency to every score. Yet somehow, I miss the simplicity and suspense of CEEFAX.
In 2001, I remember being sent to bed before the Champions League semi-final between Leeds and Valencia. Seeing that it was the second leg after a 0-0 draw at Elland Road, it was all to play for at the Campo de Mestalla. Distraught at the unjust nature of my early departure from the sitting-room, I had to figure out some way of watching the game, or at the very least, find out the final score before I could sleep restfully.
In my room, I was fortunate enough to have a twelve-inch CRT TV – you know the ones, dark grey, domed screen, boxy and unsightly. The only logical course of action was to turn it on as quietly as possible and head straight to CEEFAX 317 for the latest scores. 120 agonising minutes of tension ensued. Bundled-up into my bedsheets, I sat there praying for a score update. There was no noise to give me away, just a faint buzz and dim glow from the tiny screen in front of me. I sat there patiently waiting. Hoping.
Then it changed. CEEFAX flickered. An update. Three updates.
1-0, 2-0, 3-0.
Leeds had lost.
Now there is nothing more deflating than watching an artless line of text for that amount of time only to eventually lose the match (by such a considerable score too) but it is a testament to the engrossing power of football and the emotion it can draw from us. Although I didn’t exactly sleep peacefully that evening, supporting my team and watching that small line of text was still worth staying up for.