One of the great innovations of modern football is the ability for someone sitting at home to keep up to date with the latest scores in almost many match the you care to think of. It wasn’t so long ago that this was impossible. If you supported a non-league club, the chances were that you’d have to hope to catch the result from someone in the pub on the Saturday night or in one of the newspapers the next day. Even this, however, was not always a viable option, and occasionally you’d have to wait until the following Thursday or Friday for a match report in the local paper.
Bigger clubs were afforded more media coverage, but even their supporters would often have to play an agonising waiting game. BBC Radio 2 would cover matches on a Saturday afternoon, but more often than not they would focus on the biggest matches and only carry match reports from half a dozen or so games. They gave out scores as they got them in, but the information was far from reliable. What if they missed out your team’s crucial (to you, at least) goal? At twenty to five every Saturday afternoon, a certain percentage of the population’s minds would go elsewhere. Small crowds of men would gather, hunched around the television sets in the windows of electrical stores and television rental shops. It was time for “Final Score”.
For ten minutes or so, the results would filter through, accompanied by the rhythmic tapping sound of the teleprinter machine, feeding the full time scores through, letter by agonising letter. Unusual scores would be represented with the numbers repeated in letters (eg: Doncaster Rovers 0 Carlisle United 8 (Eight), as if the typist at the other end of the line couldn’t quite believe that Carlisle United could ever manage to score eight goals in one match. When all bar a couple of the results had come through (or the results coming through had slowed to a crawl, whichever applied), the results would be confirmed in full. The teleprinter was replaced by the videprinter (which was essentially the same as a teleprinter, except the results came through on a video screen rather than what was basically a typewriter), but even now a videprinter is used to bring in the results for the BBC by the Press Association. It’s one of an ever-dwindling number of links with the game’s past.
The internet has changed many of our expectations of how quickly we can get news delivered to us, and football is no exception in this respect. For the bigger clubs, Sky Sports News and the BBC now offer the latest scores from three o’clock through to full time. Most clubs of all shapes and sizes now have messageboards and forums upon which the latest news from the ground will filter, often erratically, through to those stuck at home. The BBC and Sky (amongst others) also have an online videprinter service which filters the results through as quickly as they come.
How reliable, though, are these services? On the whole, one would have to say, remarkably. Mistakes (usually goalscorers rather than actual scores themselves) are corrected almost immediately, and nothing worse than that ever seems to happen. On Saturday afternoon, however, we got to see what happens when things go massively, hilariously wrong. It is, in many ways, unfair to single the Non-League Videprinter out. It offers an excellent free service to those of us that would otherwise be clicking all over the place on Saturday afternoons, trying to find the latest scores. On Saturday afternoon, a gremlin got into the works of their machinery, and everything went haywire. What on earth, the watching viewer wondered, was going on at the match between Corinthian Casuals and Ashford Town? Corinth have struggled over the last couple of seasons, but were they bad enough to be forty goals down with less than half an hour played? Had Ashford Town discovered, in the first nameless Braithwaite, a player better than Zidane, Maradona, Pele and Puskas combined? Had Forest Green Rovers and Ebbsfleet United decided to eschew the rules of football for the day and play basketball instead?
The answer to these questions came just before half-time, when the vidiprinter was taken down with a message stating that “technical difficulties” were the cause. A large part of me wanted them to say that all of the matches that they had been reporting upon had been abandoned because of dinosaurs on the pitch. That evening, I sat in the pub getting text updates from events in Barcelona as England proved that if they were a club team, they’d struggle to get to the Third Round of the FA Cup. It was emergency measure, brought about by being in a pub with no television screens. When Joe Cole scored England’s second, I switched my phone off. There is such a thing as too much information.