The Watford Observer is today remembering our friend, colleague and legendary Hornets correspondent who died one year ago today.

Former assistant editor and sports editor Oliver Phillips passed away peacefully in the early hours of February 2, 2023 at his home in France at the age of 81.

Oli covered Watford for more than 40 years and was regarded as the oracle on the club, which saw him thought of as one of the most gifted sports writers in the local and regional press.

He reported on more than 2,000 Hornets matches during his career, including the golden era under Graham Taylor when the club rose from the depths of Division Four to finish runners up in Division One, qualified for Europe and reached their first FA Cup.

Watford Observer: Oli at his desk at the Watford ObserverOli at his desk at the Watford Observer (Image: Watford Observer)

Many affectionate tributes were paid to Oli after his death and we have chosen to republish a selection as a fitting way to mark this anniversary.

Senior Mirror journalist and lifelong Watford fan Mike Walters said: “A light has gone out in the press box at Vicarage Road, and part of Watford Football Club's fabric has expired with it.”

Kenny Jackett described Oli as “the most thorough journalist I have ever worked with” while former teammate Nigel Gibbs said: “When I was a schoolboy I couldn’t wait for Fridays to read Oli’s match reports and all other news about the club. This continued even when I became a player for the first team.”

Watford Observer: Oli presenting the Player of the Season trophy to Alec ChamberlainOli presenting the Player of the Season trophy to Alec Chamberlain (Image: Alan Cozzi / Watford FC)

Peter Wilson-Leary, this newspaper’s former editor, said: “We stayed in touch after leaving the newspaper, from being colleagues to becoming old friends, always meeting for a pint and a chat when he returned from France at Christmas We’d spend hours reminiscing about the Watford Observer and discussing all things Americana, as we had both travelled extensively in the USA.

“Oli was a larger than life character, a giant of a man, an unmistakable character, particularly when wearing that trademark Stetson hat of his. I’ll miss his friendship greatly.”

Former sports desk colleague Julie Riegal said: “Charismatic, larger than life and sometimes formidable, Oli had a way of leaving an indelible impression.”

Watford Observer: The media suite at Vicarage Road is named in Oli's honourThe media suite at Vicarage Road is named in Oli's honour (Image: Newsquest)

Former Hornets goalkeeper Tony Coton said: “My first recollection of Oli Phillips was in the press conference after my debut for Watford in 1984 in which I let in five goals v Everton.

When you have let in five on your debut the last place you want to be is a post-match press conference. The first thing he asked me was did I know how bad our back four was, I said of course that's why Graham Taylor bought me to the club, to steady the goals conceded column.

“He smiled at me and said ‘well that didn't go according to plan did it!’”

Fellow West Herts Golf Club member Kenneth Connolly remembered Oli: “For his encouragement to aspiring writers. He was also a fascinating musicologist. He talked enthusiastically of his visits to America to seek out the “geography” of popular hits of 50s & 60s. Stories of his visits to the Brill Building in New York City where Motown among others were produced.”

Watford Observer: Oli at home in FranceOli at home in France (Image: Family collection)

Former editor and BBC publicist Alan Monahan said: “I was honoured to be asked to supply a quote for the dust jacket of his Watford Centenary book.

"I wrote then: ‘Let us be thankful that Oliver Phillips has chosen to practice his art in our town instead of taking his talents to Fleet Street. Watford is richer for that.’

“As true now as it was then.”

Our current Watford correspondent Andrew French wrote a very personal tribute to his friend and mentor.

He ended it with these words: “I was lucky, Oli. As were all those who knew you, worked with you and read your work. We were very lucky indeed.”