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  • Matt Appleby

Teletext tales



The complexities of following Forest “live” via Optional Reception of Announcements by Coded Line Electronics

For some, football has changed and will never be the same again. Against Modern Football, they say.

However, what I miss about following football was lost not because of rampant commercialism but merely the passing of time and evolution of technology.

Teletext.

For anybody over 25, you know what I mean.

For anybody under 25, teletext was a news service transmitted through your TV. A bit like the internet but not digital. And without the porn.

It was primarily text, with occasional bizarre graphics of thick blocks of coloured text often representing a weather map that made the UK look like a rectangle.

In addition to news and weather, there were horoscopes, holidays, music charts, share prices, TV listings, and so on. And, of course, sport. And, most importantly, latest football scores.

For Forest fans without access to local radio, you had occasional Larry Canning or Pat Murphy’s updates from the City Ground on Radio 2 but teletext was the only way to stay right up-to-date – crucial if, like me, you need to know the very latest Forest score whenever and wherever we are playing.

So, imagine Soccer Saturday. But without the ex-pro banter. And without Jeff. And without the guests. And without the rolling bar of scores.

Or imagine text commentary, but with no commentary, only the score.

Now imagine a TV screen with a black background. And with space only for a very limited number of brightly coloured characters.

Finally, imagine watching that screen for 90 minutes and waiting for it to change to read:


NOTT'M FOREST 1-0 THE OPPOSITION

It sounds dull. It sounds odd. But it was a matchday ritual – a hidden world of people up and down the country yelling at their TV’s to update in favour of their team.

See facts

There were initially two “teletext” services: Ceefax on the BBC (“see facts”, geddit it?) and ORACLE on ITV (later replaced, confusingly, by Teletext).


I thought ORACLE was a nod to the service being the font of all knowledge. Only later when something called the internet was invented did I learn it meant “Optional Reception of Announcements by Coded Line Electronics”. Obviously.

Sadly for ITV, rather like on FA Cup Final day, my focus was primarily on the BBC and its superior service and it’s those Ceefax page numbers that are indelibly inked in mind (despite occasional and unwelcome changes to the numbering).

I therefore would only use ORACLE as a last resort when somebody in the house wanted to watch ITV (don’t forget, only ever one TV in the house in the old days).


My reluctant compromise would be to use the “MIX” function. MIX was text without the black background so you could watch TV and see the scores. As with all compromises that sound like a good idea, it was unsatisfactory for all concerned.

The nearest service to teletext at the time was latest scores flashed up at the bottom of the screen during the BBC’s Grandstand (usually racing) and ITV’s World of Sport (usually wrestling).


I recall a very early goal flash on Grandstand in January 1982:


NOTTM FOREST 1-0 WREXHAM


This immediately put my nerves at ease as, surely, Forest would comfortably negotiate the second division Wrexham in the FA Cup 3rd round. Instead, Mark Proctor’s goal was a precursor to three more score flashes that bought deepening states of despair:


NOTTM FOREST 1-3 WREXHAM

A mere score flash perhaps but, actually, final and irrefutable proof that the golden Clough & Taylor era was over. Wrexham subsequently lost seven on the bounce as they tumbled into Division Three (and then Four the next season).

Smell and texture


Changing your TV in the 1970s and 80s happened only slightly more frequently than QPR wins at the City Ground, so it was a while until we got a our first teletext compatible set.


I can still picture the remote control - even vividly recall the smell of the plastic and the texture of the buttons - and that magical moment when I first turned it on and opened up a whole new world.


Of course in those days, Saturday at 3pm meant a full schedule of 11 games in “League Division One”. Due to the limited number of characters on Ceefax, latest scores were spread across two or three pages that rotated throughout the 90 minutes.


Then, around 4.40pm, the “Latest scores” header would be dramatically replaced by the weekend-mood-defining “Results” header.


Each individual page of latest scores was visible for about 20 seconds before moving to the next one, using the “Page 1/3”, “Page 2/3” and “Page 3/3” convention.


You couldn’t accelerate or fast forward the process so if it displayed NOTTM FOREST 0 LEEDS UNITED 1 that was the latest score until the pages rotated back round to the only score you were interested in around 40 seconds later.

In that era, I happily observed that Forest would often be losing at home but rarely lose. I therefore loved Ceefax and its magical powers to manufacture a Forest win (unlike the image from 1996, we came back to beat Leeds 2-1 in that October 1981 match thanks to Peter Ward and the inevitable John Robertson penalty).


Heightened

Ceefax’s charm was its ruthlessly basic nature. So, some skill was required to heighten your matchday experience.


Over time this became increasingly influenced by superstitions as I slowly realised Ceefax didn’t actually have those magical powers the 8 year old me had thought.

Like most football fan behaviour it was, of course, completely irrational and a little eccentric. For example, using “HOLD” to freeze the page meant there were no updates, so if we were losing I might freeze the page for, say, two minutes.

This meant two minutes of goal updates were not displayed until HOLD was released (the equivalent of a F5 page “refresh” these days).


So, imagine the crushing disappointment as HOLD was released and, instead of Forest scoring, Manchester City had scored their second to wrap up a comfortable away win in November 1985.

If Forest were really struggling, a superstitious switch to the otherwise ignored ORACLE on ITV might be in order to see if lady luck could be changed. Sadly, more often than not, these little tricks had no impact as Forest’s Europe-conquering late 70s moved into the mid-table mid-80s.

Proudly

On many occasions watching “live” on Ceefax was just as enjoyable as actually going to the match. In October 1985, Forest raced into an early 3-0 lead against Ipswich and our page on Ceefax was bloated with details of the three goals - two for Bomber Bowyer and Stuart Pearce’s first for the club – proudly displacing the space for goalless games elsewhere.

Also in that 1985/86 season – just after the crushing disappointment of Manchester City – Forest played Oxford, unusually, on a Sunday.


Even more unusually this meant we had the Ceefax latest scores page all to ourselves as no other games were being played.


The BBC released the creative shackles and boldly used the extra space to double the size of the font such that NOTTM FOREST 0-1 OXFORD UNITED was literally shouting out the screen for most of the afternoon.


However, it was only after a number of HOLD tricks and a last-resort switch to ORACLE that Peter Davenport finally got Forest’s equaliser.

Three twelve

By the early 1990s Ceefax was firmly in the national consciousness, shaping how people followed football and the language down the pub (“did you see three twelve?”).


The dug-out disorientated Ron Atkinson’s confident quip that “Villa will finish on the first page of Teletext” showed he, like us, spent hours working out permutations with the first page of the League Division One table on HOLD.


That first page of 341 on Ceefax - listing league positions 1 to 11 - was the measure of respectability.


Holding the second page to study positions 12 to 22 was a stark reminder your season was falling short of expectations.

Barren

Early in the summer of 1991, Forest signed Carl Tiler for £1.5m from Barnsley. In those days people didn’t really think about football in the summer, unless it was the World Cup or European Championship.

Hence, the pages of the Ceefax football section were barren. Black empty space dominated the “Headlines” page (302), with just an occasional story.


The popular and slightly more-gossipy “News in Brief” page (the aforementioned 312) might run to six or seven pages in-season, but was now restricted to just a couple of pages at most.

Tiler’s arrival did merit a mention on Ceefax but we knew nothing about him. No You Tube. No Wikipedia. No Barnsley fan forums to check the mood.


So we had to wait until August to make a judgement. Despite a decent career that later included Villa and Everton, that judgement was largely unfavourable.

Armageddon

Forest actually started that 1991/92 season with genuine hope. Tiler and the £2m Teddy Sheringham arrived on the money from the previous season’s FA Cup run. Added to a core of genuinely top players - including Pearce, Des Walker, Roy Keane and Nigel Clough - there was promise, but it was a false dawn.


Early on in the season, draws were largely absent. Later it was erratic and unusual results - the first sign things weren’t right and would end in Armageddon the next season.

My attendance that season was hampered by work to support my studies so I resorted to watching a number of games “live” on Ceefax.

Our first draw wasn’t until the end of September 1991, a game we expected to win against West Ham.


My nerves were settled by an early goal (Woan 4, as Ceefax reported) but soon maddening frustration set in as West Ham went 2-1 up and Ceefax steadfastly refused to report an equaliser and further Forest goals.

Thankfully, Sheringham got a late equaliser and, despite Desmond coming on as a centre-forward substitute, it finished 2-2.


Cathode ray tubes


Forest’s next draw in that 1991/92 season was at Norwich in November. By now I was working in a pub on some Saturdays.


TV’s weren’t really seen in pubs, partly because the cathode ray tubes were massive and weighed a ton.


I precariously placed the pub’s TV on the fruit machine and locked Ceefax to the latest scores.


Not particularly exciting for the punters as it finished 0-0.


Nor when I switched over to ITV so we could all watch brief highlights on Central Goals Extra just after 5pm.

Dispassionate


Big Ron poached Garry Parker from us for Villa around this time.


Affection for Parker ran deep due to that goal at Ashton Gate.


The rain falling off the net as he crashed in his extra-time 1989 League Cup semi-final winner challenges Brian Rice at Arsenal in the FA Cup sixth round the season before as the most iconic Forest goal of that Wembley-laden era.

Sadly, it was with the usual concise, dispassionate coldness that “News in Brief” on page 312 reported:


“Garry Parker has joined Aston Villa from Nottingham Forest for £650,000”

I stared at the screen, disbelievingly, using the HOLD function as a crutch to fully digest the news. In hindsight, it was a reasonable decision – after all, he’d been replaced in central midfield by Roy Keane.

Acceptability

Expecting to win, like against West Ham, and then staring at Ceefax refusing to oblige reached its peak at home to Sheffield United in February 1992.


We lost 5-2 and Forest never conceded five at home under Cloughie.


I always felt a defeat starting “3-“ was the line of acceptability but once it was “4-“ then it was embarrassment (cf. Coventry City at home 1990).


Sheffield United cantered into a 3-1 lead, literally as the pages on Ceefax rotated.


No opportunity to stare at the screen and contemplate because they just kept scoring.


I tried all the superstitions to kick-start the avalanche of Forest goals, including switching to ORACLE. But it just got worse.


Indeed, I am vividly recalling the frustration of that day as I type this now. Sadly, I was further reminded of this dark day whenever I saw Sheffield United play in the 2017/18 season … sponsored by Teletext Holidays.


Confusing

The next season, 1992/93, was of course Forest’s nadir.


Or so we thought at the time – we signed Eugen Dadi later.


Anybody watching Ceefax “live” versus Sheffield Wednesday in September 1992 would know it was going to be a disastrous season - as if signing Gary Bannister (with one leg longer than the other) to score Teddy Sheringham’s goals wasn’t enough of a clue.

Nigel Jemson had left the season before as part of the clear out that saw Parker leave. After a serious car crash, Jemson was looking to recapture his form and was being heavily linked with a return to Forest in the run-up to the game (in part-exchange for Kingsley Black, fact fans).

Wednesday were 1-0 up at half time but Pat Murphy’s Radio 2 reports were promising and soon Ceefax was proudly displaying:


NOTT'M FOREST 1-1 SHEFFIELD WEDS

My usual child-like leaping around the front room was immediately tempered by the accompanying:


Jemson 57

Now this was mightily confusing.

Different scenarios raced through my mind.

Had we indeed equalised but the scorer was incorrectly named? Possible, as Forest goalscorers were rarely seen in that 92/93 season.

Had Jemson signed and scored for us? Unlikely as surely Ceefax would have reported the signing. But exciting if true.

Had Jemson scored for Sheffield Wednesday and it was actually 0-2? Cruel and completely feasible.

Had a Derby-supporting-Ceefax-operative played a joke? Even crueler, yet completely feasible.

Once the pages rotated through the three pages of scores, inevitably and tragically, it had been corrected to:


NOTT'M FOREST 0-2 SHEFFIELD WEDS

This time it was accompanied by:


Hyde 57

We lost 2-1 and the Jemson mystery was never solved. Was it only me who saw it? Was it a figment of my Ceefax-riddled brain?


That night we discussed it our regular haunt of the time - The Hacienda - where a small number of us Forest fans gathered early every Saturday evening, discuss the match and off-pitch gossip, and then go our separate ways.


I still have the tape of that night at The Hacienda. Whilst others enjoy Graeme Park weaving a magical spell of early 90s deep house, it just reminds me of the Nigel Jemson mystery.

Ibiza

By now I was working and could attend the match more regularly so my dependence on Ceefax was broken.


However, there were always reminders: the backdrop of nights back at somebody’s flat after a club was often “Pages from Ceefax” that ran through the night; and flights to Ibiza were always cheaper via ORACLE (with the trusty HOLD button proving invaluable again).

Ceefax eventually stopped transmitting on 23 October 2012. It was first broadcast on Monday 23 September 1974 but I am unable to confirm if there was a report of Neil Martin’s brace and Viv Anderson’s debut in Forest’s 3-2 win at Hillsborough on the preceding Saturday.

I do recall, however, that October night in 2012 when Forest played Blackpool away and, courtesy of the internet that made Ceefax obsolete, I listened the match on Radio Nottingham via the Forest website.

Dexter Blackstock’s injury time equaliser was met with the usual excitable response that never leaves you as a football fan.

However, it would never have matched the reaction had I been watching on Ceefax when - for the very last time in its history - the latest scores page rotated to reveal …

Blackstock 90


A version of this article was first published in issue 7 of Bandy & Shinty in February 2018


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