Back in 1986, when I first walked through the doors of the old Watford Observer offices in Rickmansworth Road, there wasn’t a computer in sight.

I was 15 then and obviously didn’t expect to see the sort of hardware that a teenager of today might now take for granted.

There was the sound of typewriters and people on the phone, the busy sort of hubbub I was anticipating from a newspaper office as a youngster with a dream to be a sports journalist.

Obviously those offices weren’t the first or even the current home of the Watford Observer, but across its 160-year history I am certain that newsroom buzz has always been there.

Clearly, though, how news is gathered and then delivered has changed immensely.

Back in ‘86 reporters had a desk phone but no mobiles, so they regularly went out in cars, on bikes or even on foot to their patch, or wherever a story had occurred.

There were no lap-tops, no voice recorders, just notepads. I remember occasions where, if a sporting event I was covering happened on a Thursday (deadline day for Friday’s paper) I would sometimes have to resort to phoning the sports desk from a public phone and dictating my copy.

If you were in the office on a Thursday afternoon then there was a tangible ‘deadline’ feeling, as reporters rushed to finish stories and the team of people who put the pages together and turned them into newspapers toiled to make sure everything was done accurately, neatly and on time.

Watford Observer: Andrew worked at the Watford Observer before joining Watford FCAndrew worked at the Watford Observer before joining Watford FC

It was typewriters for my first few years – I think in the late 80s we got one huge PC that we could use if we were lucky – so I got used to bashing the keys, thumping the space bar with my thumb like it was a string on a bass guitar, and then using the metal arm to start a new line and sweep the paper back to the left.

Those formative years I just cannot shake off, and I have broken a couple of lap-top keyboards by typing with great force. One former colleague from a job only a few years ago said he knew when I was typing because his water bottle would shake like the famous scene when the T-Rex is near in Jurassic Park.

The fact that colleague wasn’t even on the same desk as me perhaps tells you I really do hammer those keys pretty hard…

Watford Observer:

Having worked at the Watford Observer after leaving school in 1989 until moving to Watford FC in 1998, my memories of how the club was reported upon by the great Oliver Phillips are firmly etched on my mind – both in terms of the ethos and manner of the actual coverage, as well as the physical work involved in doing so.

Being a paper of fact and record hasn’t changed despite the intervening years. The work involved most definitely has.

First of all, in my years at the Watford Observer it was purely a newspaper, and a weekly one at that. So a Saturday or midweek match report wouldn’t see the light of day until Friday morning, and it made no difference if a player was signed on a Monday or a Thursday (though the latter did make things a bit more hectic).

There was no website, no Twitter, no Facebook, no all-day Sky Sports.

Returning to cover the club in summer 2022 was quite an eye-opener. I’m not bad with tech, but suddenly I was having to update the website, add pictures, links to other stories, put a Tweet out, add a Facebook post. No procrastinating, safe in the knowledge the paper wasn’t going to print for a few days.

I met up with Oli only a few months ago, and as I regaled him with what is required in terms of coverage on a matchday, he gave a gentle shake of the head and said “I’m glad I retired before all this!”

I’d actually done some ‘live blogging’ before, but not anything as intense as doing so for a 90-minute match. It’s quite tricky as you want to tell those following the blog as much as you can, but you also have to keep an eye on the game. A break for an injury is always handy, but two or three shots on goal in quick succession can leave you scrambling to keep up.

Some stadiums, including Vicarage Road, do have TVs in the press box that show replays, but in the Championship that’s a minority. So you have to pay real attention, hope the numbers on the shirts are clear (anything with hoops or stripes is a problem) and if all else fails ring one of your sons who is either in the Rookery End or streaming the game at home! (The latter wasn’t even an option to until very recently either).

Watford Observer: Andrew questions Slaven Bilic after every Watford match.Andrew questions Slaven Bilic after every Watford match. (Image: PA)

As well as the live blog, there is a match report that we aim to publish as soon after the final whistle as possible.

Then it’s downstairs to the press working area to wait for the managers and, sometimes, a player as well to give their thoughts.

This is where things have definitely changed over the years. My first memories of getting quotes were waiting in the tunnel or by the door of the players’ bar. All very ad hoc and informal. Now virtually every ground has a press conference suite, and managers are brought in and out. Plus the written press have to wait their turn, as TV and radio get first go.

Then ideally some or all of the manager’s comments are posted onto the website as soon as possible. That’s not too bad for a home game, but on away trips that often means leaving the stadium well after 6pm – that can mean getting home after 11pm on the longest trips, having set off at least 12 hours earlier. Those long trips haven’t changed, but I can’t moan: fans pay to do the same amount of travelling.

So matchdays are very different in the life of a sports journalist to what I remember from the late 80s, and would be unrecognisable to my Watford Observer predecessors from the 1900s.

The day-to-day reporting of the club has also changed immensely. As I wrote earlier, it didn’t really matter what day a story broke 30 years or more ago: the paper came out on Friday so unless a national newspaper covered it and you needed to find a different angle, you had a free run.

Now, though, stories can break anywhere. Sky Sports have huge resources, there are national newspaper websites and social media channels, independent social outlets, and even fans can break stories (we’ve all seen those ‘just saw Player X leaving the stadium’ on transfer deadline day tweets).

Not only do stories emerge at an incredible speed, but because the Watford Observer has a website and social media channels, there is no longer the luxury of sitting on a story. However, I get a buzz of that immediacy and the need to deliver fast but accurate stories.

Our Watford FC coverage in grounded in fact – we’re quite happy to let others run rumours first, but we pride ourselves on being the place fans turn to when they want to know if something has actually happened.

As Oli always taught me, make the Watford Observer so trusted that until people read it there, they don’t believe it.

Reporting on Watford has changed so much in just my 30-odd years in journalism, never mind the 160 years that the Watford Observer has been at the heart of the town and community.

Nonetheless, one thing stays the same: accurate, honest, thorough reporting, asking the questions the fans would ask themselves. I might not be around to see it myself, but I am pretty certain those will still be the watchwords of the Watford Observer’s coverage of Watford FC when it reaches its 200th anniversary – and beyond.