The Watford Observer has again teamed up with its friends at The Watford Treasury to share stories from YBR! Yellow Black & Red!

Tom Brodrick remembers a time before wall-to-wall television coverage, when watching Watford on your TV was a far-from-simple task.

VHS tapes and VCR machines were the early-eighties phenomenon which would see households, for the first time, able to watch their own copy of Hollywood blockbusters, the previous evening’s Coronation Street or family camcorder videos on their TV screens. It was only right, then, that a modern football club like Watford saw the opportunities of selling recorded matches on VHS to supporters.

Watford Observer:

The earliest, produced by the so-called ‘Watford Video Service’, featured highlights from a selection of home matches only from 1981/82 onwards. Early tapes featured no commentary, action replays which were simply the already-shown footage slowed down, and a mandatory pan onto a view of the Vicarage Road end scoreboard and the grainy melee on the terrace beneath after each Watford goal. The white, photocopied box sleeve with stencilled season details betrayed the somewhat homespun production methodology of the tapes.

Fast-forward to the end of 1989/90 and the first of a series of more professional, full-season ‘review’ products made an appearance. Almost as much entertainment could be drawn from the melodramatic idents, cheesy transition-wipe effects and naff synthesiser/drum machine theme music (dating the tapes as rapidly as the mullets, kits, terracing and Benskins adverts still remnant at the Vic) as from the football. What has aged better is the calm, authoritative voice of Mike Vince, whose steady narration and quite convincing retrospective commentary were notable: a personal favourite moment was from 1998/99 when Vince evoked the excitement of the late flourish to make the play-offs, “Cometh the hour, cometh the man: Tommy Mooney”, followed by a fabulous video montage of the striker’s April goals set to Elton’s version of Pinball Wizard.

Watford Observer:

It is difficult now to imagine having to await the release of the review video to relive the enjoyment of final-day survival at Oxford, thunderous volleys from Richard Johnson, a 4-0 derby demolition at Kenilworth Road or promotion triumphs. Some I’d experienced in person; some not. In an era before near-instant access to video clips of goals, the review tape became an essential purchase for Watford fans. More than that was the experience of opening the stiff plastic box, rattling the cassette against the edge of the VCR deck before it fed itself in with familiar clicking and whirring sounds, and watching the initial fuzz on the TV screen in the hope it would give way to a clear image (perhaps a thoughtless member of the household had even stuck some Sellotape over the protective tab and recorded over the prized footage of the Golden Boys with an episode of Neighbours).

Watford Observer:

The season review VHS was replaced by slimmer, slinkier DVDs from 2003/04. Never needing to be rewound and unable to get chewed or demagnetised (albeit scratchable), the DVD killed off videotape so quickly that practically everyone jettisoned their old VCRs, meaning most Watford fans would no longer own the necessary hardware to play the old review tapes. The DVD season reviews would meet a not dissimilar fate as the ease of internet streaming, and Watford’s rise into the copyright minefield of the Premier League in 2015, saw the end of the sale of a season-review video, perhaps for good.

Many sadly relegated to car boot sales and charity shops, surviving season review VHS tapes are now a fragile record of the club’s history; fitting, perhaps, given the fleeting nature of the game itself.

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