The anorak's choice for football coverage, a pixellated wonderland of space-saving football clichés and, best of all, the most nerve-wracking place to follow your team over 90 minutes.
Yes, it's Ceefax.
Born on September 23rd 1974, Ceefax still holds its own. More reliable and accessible (if a tad slower) than the internet, it remains for many the easiest way of checking the scores at a glance. But if you're simply using Ceefax as a convenient score service, you are rather spectacularly missing out.
After years of consulting Ceefax as a matter of course, my fingers now effortlessly and instinctively punch out 3....0....2. As iconic a figure to me as my birthdate, my PIN code or my phone number, page 302 of Ceefax has come to mean many things. A trustworthy footballing companion, whose reporting and facts I can trust implicitly; a safe-haven of interest on a Sunday afternoon when the only other option is the Antiques Roadshow ("I think, at auction, this item, if it was in perfect condition, would be looking at around......"); and, as a more guilty pleasure perhaps, a treasure trove of lower-league miscellany (more of which later).
My lengthy experience of Ceefax has ensured I am fully versed in its unique and skilled use of language. Limited in the amount of space they can fill, the headlines and articles are forced to employ a simple code of efficient words and phrases; a detailed and alphabetised (if not all-encompassing) list is as follows:
Ace – A Ceefax writer’s dream (a three letter word), ace should signify a highly-regarded player. In fact, it is a label attributed to any Tom, Dick or Jose in the news.
Example: Blues Close In On Deportivo Ace
Axe – A very popular way of describing the sacking of a manager. Is also used, less frequently, to report the dropping of a high-profile player from a squad.
Example: Macclesfield Axe Ince
Bid – Normally associated with proposed transfer deals, bid actually often appears as a synonym for a team’s efforts to achieve a season-long goal.
Example: Henry Strikes To Boost Gunners Title Bid
Blast – A vitriolic burst of criticism, with various possible sources or targets.
Example: Warnock Blasts Referee Rennie
Blow – A disappointing event, invariably associated with injuries.
Example: Spurs Suffer Mido Injury Blow
Boost – The polar opposite of a blow.
Example: Mido Injury Boost For Spurs
Dent – A type of blow, but one that only affects a bid.
Example: United Title Bid Dented By Stalemate
Joy – Exploiting its three-letter status to the full, joy is the weapon of choice to describe a manager’s/player’s happiness.
Example: Coppell Joy At Reading Comeback
Raid – Used specifically to describe the act of signing a player from a club who are neither rich nor high-profile enough to prevent his departure.
Rap – A cult favourite, this diminutive word is far catchier than “disciplinary proceedings”.
Example: Allardyce Faces FA Rap Over Bung Allegations
Set for – With dramatic effect, this cliffhanger of a word pre-empts a confirmed transfer.
Example: Hargreaves Set For United Move
Sorry – Quite simply, a shorter version of the word “pathetic”.
Switch – A swiftly-completed move, usually not hampered by technicalities or haggling.
Example: Lauren Completes Pompey Switch
Swoop – Similar to a raid, if rather less exciting, it again refers to a bigger club signing a player from a smaller club.
Example: Arsenal Linked With Harewood Swoop
However, it is not just the above that secures Ceefax its anorak status. Hidden away towards the bottom of page 302 is the ultimate in football geek ammunition. Modestly titled “News In Brief”, this multi-page section was found for many years on page 312. Serving as a sort of Sir-Trevor-McDonald–and-finally-style offering after the viewer had digested the meatier news stories above it, it has subsequently moved to the less glamorous page 323.
Thankfully, its output, a swift journey through the transfer dealings and hard luck stories of the lower leagues and abroad, remains as fascinating as ever. Only thanks to page 312/323 will I rest assured at night knowing that Blackpool winger Rory Prendergast has completed his switch to League Two strugglers Rochdale, that Burton Albion midfielder Lee Fowler is set to leave after being placed on the transfer list at the Pirelli Stadium, or that West Ham striker Hogan Ephraim has extended his loan spell at Colchester United until the end of the season.
Horrifyingly, a BBC Ceefax overlord has also seen fit to create a “gossip” page, which cherry-picks the raciest football rumours from the tabloids. It is not for the purists however, and this 302 devotee has thus far steered clear of its heresy.
I welcome the internet, the suave male and attractive female presenter partnerships on Sky Sports News, and even the modest sports round-ups on the radio, but Ceefax was, is, and always will be the place where I will find out if Barnet’s appeal against the two red cards shown to Dean Sinclair and Ian Hendon has been successful.
The following images encapsulate the delights of Ceefax. From the main page (Kettering, what are you doing?) to the delights of the underworld of page 323 (nee 312) - the only place on the planet where you'll see "Ronaldinho" and "Walton & Hersham" share the same page. Brilliant.
Ceefax, I salute you.