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Date: 26/10/13

Roll The Dice

Some of you may be wondering how I got this way. Perhaps what follows will provide something which we amateur psychiatrists call a 'clue'.

I don't why the reminiscence came back to me today; there has been nothing specific to trigger it.

First, a small preamble or back-story.

As a child, I had very little interest in sport of any kind. My father - a noted local follower and player of at least two major sports - was no doubt baffled by this lack of interest. But I was (and remain) physically weedy and found the idea of competing with boys (or even girls) who were stronger and more aggressive than me almost abhorrent.

I'm not sure why, at the age of thirteen, this should have changed. Certainly my own unprepossessing physical characteristics hadn't, puberty notwithstanding. Nonetheless, the summer of 1975 suddenly found me becoming interested - nay, fanatical - about football (what Americans and other exotics call 'soccer'). Just watching it and keeping up with the results.

It was in August 1975 that I started buying (or, to be more precise, having bought for me) the weekly football magazine Shoot!. Every week (usually a Thursday) would see my copy eagerly devoured within half an hour of receipt; pieces and photographs I wanted to keep would be put into an old ring-binder which had once contained a spare-parts catalogue for Hoovers; and I would use Shoot!'s famous 'League Ladders' to chart the rise and fall of my chosen teams during the season.

In short, I was a football geek avant le lettre. I would also have for Christmas every year a copy of what was then called the Rothmans Football Yearbook (latterly rebranded the Sky Sports Football Yearbook once sponsorship of a sports annual by a tobacco company became too incongruous to live).

There was a hands-on aspect to this as well. Not actually playing the game - the nearest I got was the kick-arounds we used to have on the school field or Top Yard during break or lunchtime. I preferred to play in goal because that made it less likely that I would be the one who was kicked around. But for Christmas 1975, in addition to the Yearbook, I asked for Striker. This was a sort of five-a-side Subbuteo with players whose feet kicked the ball when you pressed their heads down. I would spend many a shining hour throughout the year playing games against myself (there being no-one else sufficiently interested or - as they would say nowadays - sad to compete with; besides which, this meant that I would always win). I even invented a series of clubs which I would manage, usually to great success, and concoct players to be played, dropped and transferred as and when I pleased.

It was in an edition of Shoot! at, I think, the tail end of 1977 where I saw an advertisement for something called Chart Soccer or LOGacta. This was an early form of what in computer days would be called a 'sim'; you had a set of instructions and charts, cards and dice, and you could - you were promised - play a simulacrum of a full season of a sixteen-team Super League (ahead of its time, this) and the various domestic and European cup competitions.

I had to have it, and so off my parents' Postal Order went to an address in - if memory serves - Brighouse in West Yorkshire, and I eagerly awaited Christmas.

Came the great morning, and once the wrapping paper had been torn off, I was confronted by a predominantly white cardboard box which, upon opening it, contained a slim instruction book, a chart book, a sheet for recording the teams' points round by round, a dice selector, seven six-sided dice with various combinations of numbers and colours and thirty-three small cards (numbered 1 to 32 with one blank - this was for the European Cup-Winners' Cup where, in The Real World™, tiny, poor, backward little Wales was allowed to compete for once).

The game wasn't all that difficult to get your head round, and it wasn't long before I became throughly obsessed with playing season after season (the chart book had, if I recall correctly, room for eight domestic and European seasons plus two World Cups and two European Championships).

(For a little bit more background on the playing of the game, see the Wikipedia article here, and one person's experience of trying to play it years after the event here).

As satisfying as this undoubtedly was, it didn't quite hit the spot from the control-freakery point of view, but I was able to tie it in with another of my mental quirks.

I had invented a country. It was called Hathia in English and Tyokhkon in its own native language (elements of which I invented as well - a sort of cod-Slavic for the most part, written in Latin script with additional characters; I hadn't really encountered the Cyrillic at this point). I had taken my battered Phillips Schools Atlas, looked at promising locations and then drawn a somewhat blob-like ring on one of the maps. The map in question was one of eastern Europe (a mysterious territory all in all at that time), and 'Hathia' comprised parts of south-eastern Poland, eastern Czechoslovakia (as was), eastern Hungary, north-western Romania and a large chunk of western Ukraine.

This (as well as I can remember it now) is a map of 'Hathia'/'Tyokhkon':

Map of non-existent eastern European state

Marrying up these two weirdnesses meant that I had complete control over the whole thing, except for the roll of the dice (and, to be fair, I don't think that I ever cheated on that score...well, not much).

I had already filled the LOGacta chart book up with 'real' teams, but I just rubbed out everything in it (I had had the rare foresight to put everything in in pencil) and started again with my 'Federatsy Vuotbol TyokhkonŽ'. I also sent off for a second chart book to save me from having to rub out the entries a second time.

I played this compelling little game over and over again right up to the point where I went off to Uni, and then other matters (grouped under the thoroughly misleading heading 'reality') intervened and I never went back to it afterwards.

The box had long since fallen apart by that time, and eventually all the various parts were binned with the exception of the small cards (cup draws for the use of) and the dice, which I still have. I kept these because I devised a form of cricket-on-paper which used the dice for scoring (the number '5' on the brown and green dice indicated the fall of a wicket, and the '1' and '2' on the yellow one counted as 'extras').

Sadly for subsequent generations, LOGacta went out of production at the beginning of the 1980s and is unlikely to make a comeback (at least in its original form) in an age of Pads and Apps. Nonetheless, I spent the happier hours of my late teen years playing it, and it's scarcely surprising that it is still fondly remembered by many who encountered it and that complete original sets apparently fetch silly money on a famous auction site.

Now do you understand why I am the way I am?