When Barcelona and football legend in general Lionel Messi submitted his transfer request on Tuesday, the reaction was huge.
“Where will it go? How much will it cost?”
But it was the next line in the news that really mattered: “The Argentine international, 33, faxed the club on Tuesday saying he wishes to exercise a clause in his contract, allowing him to leave for free with immediate effect.”
Fax? Really? FAX?
Imagine writing an email by hand, then scanning it and inserting the sheet of paper into some sort of hybrid between a phone and a printer, so that the recipient can print it before writing the reply.
This is basically a fax.
If it sounds very old-fashioned, that’s because it is.
The idea was first patented by Scottish watchmaker Alexander Bain in 1843, long before the telephone was invented.
He would have swung a pendulum over a line drawing made of copper. Each time it hits a piece of copper, the pendulum sends an electrical signal to another pendulum, which copies the same image.
The copy was an exact replica of the original – a “facsimile”, or fax for short.
This was later adapted to send electrical signals over telegraph cables (yes, the telephone had not yet been invented) and the fax could be sent over long distances.
For fax reasons
Faxes have obviously moved on from pendulums and copper designs, but the basic concept is the same.
Their heyday began in the mid-1980s. (Around the same time Messi was born – coincidence?)
It was the era just before email got big and faxing was the fastest way to send documents back and forth.
Documents, especially those requiring a signature, were (and sometimes still are) faxed between companies.
They were still in use until the 2000s, and people still remember that painful screech when they accidentally dialed a fax number instead of a phone number.
He just refuses to die
Cassette tapes, VHS, Ataris – they were all great in the 1980s, but they didn’t last long into the 21st century.
Somehow, the fax did it.
A 2003 BBC story – when e-mail was definitely a thing – explains how faxing was “more popular than it has ever been”.
In fact, he goes on to say how common it was to print an electronic document and fax it to someone who would then type it in at the end.
Fortunately, that kind of inefficiency is not really seen today as faxes have finally become obsolete.
Lawyers continue to fax legal documents when signatures are needed.
And only in 2018, the NHS was banned from purchasing multiple faxes.
It came after a survey found that they were still using around 9,000 fax machines across England to send things like patient medical histories.
The NHS was told to stop using them by March of this year and switch to email.
And fax time may have run out for lawyers too. Electronic signature firm DocuSign recently posted annual sales of $ 974 million (£ 741 million), suggesting that online signatures are big business.
Don’t let the fax get in the way of a good story
OK, back to Messi, because there is another piece of history behind his so-called fax.
Many people online have pointed out that it probably wasn’t a fax in the old 80’s sense of the word.
He sent a burofax, a kind of UK registered delivery.
It is likely that his lawyers would have sent a PDF via the Spanish postal service and FC Barcelona had to admit they received it.
In Spain, this means that there is legal proof of what was sent and on what date.
Which could come in handy if the dispute between Barca and Messi gets, well, messy.
They are arguing over a clause in his contract worth around 700 million euros (629 million pounds), so it could end up in court.
But you never know – maybe Messi was really sending his transfer request in an old fax from a multimillion-dollar mansion last night?
As sports writer Ryan Baldi points out, he’s never been the type to do things by the rules.
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