Jason and the Argos Gnomes (Part Five): The Sportel 600 Colour TV Video Game

“…and Tommy Docherty, the manager who people cruelly said ‘was the most successful failure in football’ has today proved them wrong…”

– John Motson (Liverpool v Manchester United, F.A. Cup Final, 21 May 1977)

1977 turned out to be a year of highs and lows for Mr Docherty. Before 1977, there was only one way you could do a ‘Phoenix From The Flames’ job of your favourite footballing moments. One was on your local playing fields, another was your Subbuteo or Striker set.

On the 01 October 1977, Atari launched its VCS console. The Atari 2600 Video Computer System revolutionised video gaming with its interchangeable cartridges. Before then, there Nolan Bushnell’s Pong (Atari, 1972) and Ralph Baer’s pioneering Odyssey system. Sometimes, the cartridges would cost as much as a built-in TV games system, of which there was many imitators. Here is one of them:

The Sportel 600 Colour TV Video Game System

For 1977, the Sportel Series 600 was pretty state-of-the-art, with the price pretty ahead of its time too. Whereas most TV games had black and white graphics, this had crisp (for 1977) colour graphics. The console was a wedge shaped device with wedge shaped paddles connected to the sides using jack leads.

It came complete with four games: football, table tennis, squash and handball. For football fans only two colours (come on, this was 1977 for crying out loud): red or blue. In other words, Manchester United versus Everton; Rangers versus Aberdeen; or Stalybridge Celtic versus Hyde United. Typical of the TV game, represented by a rectangular block and a square ball.

The Sportel 600 TV video game used the NTL-600 chip, also seen in the Novex Colour Video Sports Game, Match Color and Derby Master systems. Sportel’s console was only available in the UK. It was a rebadged version of the Novex TV Sport 9006 console, again from 1977 and available throughout mainland Europe.

1977 seemed to have been the high water mark for TV games. The Autumn/Winter 1977 Argos catalogue also had the Binatone TV Master Mark Four, which displayed only monochrome graphics. Wannabe Ray Kennedys and Jimmy Greenhoffs did battle with paddles that resembled cigarette lighters or the cans of a Church of Scientology e-meter. That was slight less than half the price of the Sportel, going for £19.99 (£125.71 in 2014 prices).

  • Argos Catalogue edition: Autumn/Winter 1977;
  • Page and item numbers: page 86, item 3;
  • 1976 Prices: £42.50 (£69.50, RRP);
  • 2014 Prices: £267.26 (£437.05, RRP).

S.V., 05 December 2014.

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