My fascination with Ceefax started in 1986 when as a wide eyed 9-year-old slip of a lad I was at my Nan’s house and my uncle showed me his new, state of the art telly in his bedroom. As well as being the size of a small car and looking the business it had a portable remote control and get this, Ceefax! I was baffled and enthralled all in one.
The ability to keep up with the evening’s latest football scores as they happened was a kind of sorcery that I, quite frankly didn’t realise I needed. I wondered in awe at this constantly changing and updating screen to see that Oxford United had somehow defied all the odds to take the lead against my beloved Everton, a lead they held on to and one which went a long way to denying the champions a second successive title.
These fleeting glimpses of Ceefax though were few and far between as back at home I was stuck with our dating set plonked in the corner of the front room that you had to get up and manually change the channel on. No way was I checking the latest score in the Derbyshire vs Glamorgan Britannic Assurance County Championship!
Whilst living in Cornwall is magnificent for many things, watching live sport is certainly not one of them so apart from the home Tests and the occasional Sunday match or big cup game my cricket viewing was restricted to Teletext.
To get my fix I recall my friends and I popping into the school library at lunchtime some time in 1988 much to the teacher’s delight, “hello boys, here to do some studying?”, “errr….yep, that’s it” 10 minutes later we left the comfort and quietness behind us, resigned to the fact that Ambrose and Marshall had reduced England 94-7 (again!!)
In due course we got a Television with Ceefax at home and then I could while away the hours reading all manner of mundane articles and reports and, of course, checking latest sporting scores. The service was a veritable mine of information. Cricket wise you had County Championship tables and averages, up to the minute latest scores, news of the latest England squads and reports on recent matches. My easily distracted young self had little patience for a magazine, much less something as laborious as Wisden, so this was perfect.
The mid 90s saw an explosion of Fantasy Football. Every newspaper had their own version of it, there was a designated weekly TV programme about it, my college was awash with chat about it, leagues were created, money would exchange hands, it created an extra edge to the action.
This in turn led to something that really grabbed my attention; the Daily Telegraph’s Fantasy Cricket. Lacking the glamour and indeed the coverage of its footballing sibling the cricketing version was, nevertheless, a thing of beauty.
I’d buy myself the ridiculously oversized broadsheet from a confused, curious newsagent and take it home to study the players on offer and come up with my team, complete with “hilarious” name. Once I’d filled the form out and sent off my selected team or spent upwards of £20 on a phone call to register my side a glossy booklet would come through the post with all the information I could ever want and never use. This then committed me to buying the Telegraph once a week to check how my team was getting on. Oh for an app or the internet!
The creation of my Fantasy side meant that my love and overuse of Ceefax really came into its own, (“you’ll wear those buttons off the remote” my Mum would shout). I’d spend my summers off from College and Uni trying to avoid work on pages 340-359 to see if Jason Gallian had made it to 20 or whether Mike Watkinson had managed to snag a couple of wickets to fire me up the league. Mark Illot’s 9-19 vs Northants in the crazy 30 wickets in a day back in 1995 a particular high point for my team. I never did very well but for awhile my knowledge of the county scene was on a par with anybody’s.
Alas in 2021 both Ceefax and the Telegraph’s Fantasy Cricket have now gone the same way as my Uncle’s telly. New innovations, lack of interest and changing habits mean that time waits for no man or outdated technology. But “these youngsters” will never know the excitement of seeing the little “page update” flicking up in the corner of the screen. Is it a wicket? More runs? No, it was normally just a correction of a previously misspelt word on the page. Great days.
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