A love letter to Ceefax, the best EVER way to follow a game you’re not at

Nostalgia

Teletext was one of the great inventions.

In fact, though it might seem hard to believe for the Sky Sports News generation, there has never been a better way to follow a game you’re not at than through Ceefax Football on the BBC.

Why was it so good? Well, it was just football news. Nothing more, nothing less. No yellow ties, no helicopters, no ex-pros with nothing really to say – just good, old-fashioned football news.

And football news you had to wait for. Because good things really do come to those who wait.

You could even watch the scores appearing in-vision. So no need to miss Grandstand or the wrestling, eh?! You could, and I did, watch entire matches on Ceefax. The full 90 minutes. Think about that the next time you admonish your kids for wasting their time on Minecraft!

“So, I can’t play an interactive game against my mates, but you can watch Stoke at Charlton on a blank screen that says 0-0 for an hour and three quarters? Yeah, cheers dad!”

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When your team are playing, all you need to know – if you are not there – is the score. You don’t need to know how much possession they’ve had, and in which third of the field it’s been in. You don’t need to know how many kilometres your midfield plodder has covered. You just need to know the blinkin’ score of the blinkin’ football match you aren’t at!

Why would you need any more drama, sat there, brew in hand, watching virtually a blank screen, waiting patiently for something to happen? Because it simulates a match perfectly – waiting for something to happen, nervously, unable to avert your gaze; that perfectly describes just what I’ve been through at most of the games I’ve watched!

Ceefax allowed you to immerse yourself in the game, to invest in it emotionally. For a screen with numbers on it, it somehow had emotion, feelings. A toilet break or answering the door would see you bombing back at full pelt, only to see the screen hadn’t changed. A goal would result in far more than a simple “Yessss!”. You really lived the match.

My favourite ever Ceefax game? Twas the night of April 9, 1996…

It was the year of the SAS at my club, Stoke City. Sheron and Sturridge were firing us ever closer to the First Division (in old money) play-offs: Shezza had scored in the previous four games, and that night the team heading-off down the M1 to play Luton Town.

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It was one of the few games I didn’t go to that season. I was driving home at around 9pm from work and had the radio on. We were 1-0 down. This was a huge game – with only seven games left of the 95/96 season, we simply couldn’t afford to drop points, especially to a team at the bottom of the league fighting relegation.

When I pulled up at home I raced to the door and almost snapped my key in it as I sprinted into an empty house. Slinging my bag down, I turned on the TV, put on Ceefax, and waited…

By the time the page had loaded up, it was still 1-0 to Luton. I cursed. I needed to be there. And the clock was now ticking…9.15pm…9.20pm…9.25pm…

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It was no use. We were going to lose, and it was my fault. I don’t know why, but at times like that you blame yourself for not being there or forgetting one of your matchday rituals.

Could have I taken the day off and been there? Yeah, like one extra bloke’s support would have made a difference to the game.

Should I have had oatcakes for tea, like I normally do for midweek games? Yeah, because our back four wouldn’t have conceded if they’d know my eating desires had been sated, eh?

Only one thing for it. Beer. I dashed the 10 yards or so to the kitchen and the same distance back to the living room. And it was there, in all it’s beautiful, gleaming light-font-on-a-dark-background glory…

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Inter Milan 1997 team illustration

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1-1 Sturridge (86)

I made up being over two hours away from Bedfordshire by having a living-room mental. Don’t pretend you’ve never had one.

Now, am I happy with the point, happy we’ve continued the run? Or do I want all three, knowing Leicester, Charlton, Ipswich and Palace are breathing down our necks, probably watching on Ceefax?! A bit of both, I suppose.

A few minutes later, I looked at the clock. It was almost 9.40pm, the game was over in real terms, or should have been, and I’d resigned myself to the draw.

Luton are crap, we’ll rue tonight’, I thought to myself, as I stared, without blinking, at the screen.

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READ: The 10 best football TV shows of the 90s: Fantasy Football, Dream Team…

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I’d like to think I had some sort of Uri Geller influence over our leading striker’s actions at that exact time as I willed the Stoke City half of the pixelated screen to change. I truly expected the only change to be a ‘FT’ on the screen, but my prayers were answered in some otherworldly, televisual way…

1-2 Sheron (90)

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss!

At this point I’d like to apologise to my (ex) neighbours for the language they heard as I went careering up the pavement, can in hand, screaming my head off. The Ceefax mental to end all Ceefax mentals. We’d done it! Stoke had done it! Shezza had done it! I had done it! Ceefax had done it!

No amount of Matt Le Tissier or Chris Kamara screaming their “unbelievable Jeff” heads-off will ever come close to a last-minute Ceefax winner. Nothing can compare to what happened that night, up a dimly-lit street, in a Staffordshire Moorlands town, when I discovered the (Cee)fax of life!

By Anthony Bunn


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