Oxford United and the wider football world was shocked to learn of the passing of one of their greatest ever players. News Joey Beauchamp had passed away at the tender age of 50 has rocked fans. Many say he was the best player they ever saw live.
Every club has its legends. Supporters of clubs outside the glitz and glamour of the Premier League often choose theirs on the basis of flair and individual brilliance. They tend to be more patient and forgiving too.
One of the joys of following a club away from the judgemental intensity of the Premier League is how special moments you witness in a match are yours and yours alone. Youâ€™re free to choose your personal hero, and few will judge you on your choice.
Joey Beauchamp was just that player who generated such emotions.
He was an Oxford boy who dreamed of being an Oxford player. He never wanted to play for anyone else, he only ever wanted to be an Oxford United hero.
He was a ball-boy at Wembley for the Uâ€™s famous League Cup Final win over Queenâ€™s Park Rangers in 1986.
He loved the club, loved giving his best for the club. And it showed. It filtered through to the fans. Their desire to see him produce a little magic every week was what spurred them on to turn up. Looking back at his career you feel he was 20 years too late for football. Had he been around in the 1970s he wouldâ€™ve been in great company. He was a bit of a maverick. One of those players with almost too much talent to truly understand how good he was.
That decade was littered with players just like Beauchamp. Clubs tolerated them. They put bums on seats. People would turn up on a Saturday just hoping for one moment of magic. Something they could take away and keep them company through the week. Until the next weekend.
Supporters lived their dreams through players like Beauchamp. We all dreamed as kids of being the player fans sang about. Itâ€™s what made Roy of the Rovers such a draw. Itâ€™s what keeps Football Manager in the collective psyche. Weâ€™ve all added ourselves to the game, in the hope of playing for our favourite club. Just to be in with a chance of scoring the winning goal at Wembley or the goal which saves the club from the drop. I bet some of you even know how your after-match interview will go too?
In some ways, Beauchampâ€™s career was very similar to the one youâ€™d experience on Football Manager.
He started at his boyhood club, which then sold him as they needed the funds. He was then sold again and had to choose a club he hated. Eventually, like the Prodigal Son, he found his way back home and was free to express himself in ways few will forget for as long as they continue to watch football.
He made his debut for the club in 1989. After 120 appearances he was beginning to grab the attention of bigger clubs. West Ham United emerged as keen to take the player and develop his talent.
He revealed to The Herald in 2010, he never wanted to move to West Ham.
â€œI was walking around the pitch at the Manor Ground and Keith Cox told me that if I didnâ€™t join West Ham then Oxford would fold.â€
â€œWhat was I supposed to do? I could never have lived with myself if I refused to join West Ham and then Oxford did go underâ€
â€œSo I had to go.â€
Beauchamp moved to West Ham in June 1994. The club paid Oxford United Â£1m for the player. Instead of moving closer to east London, he bought a house in Oxford with the money he made from the transfer.
â€œI was going to commute every day and didnâ€™t think it was going to be a problem. But two or three weeks of training, I realised it was.â€
â€œThe club wanted me to move closer, I didnâ€™t, so the only way out was to either rot in the reserves or go somewhere else.â€
He played in some of the pre-season friendlies but never made a first-team appearance. He scored â€˜a stunning goalâ€™ in one friendly against Oxford City.
â€œThe ball dropped over the head of the City defender, Jon Muttock, and I volleyed it, first time, from about 40 yardsâ€
â€œIt flew over the keeper and into the net â€“ then bizarrely the referee disallowed it for offside.â€
If any Oxford fans blamed the club for selling Beauchamp to West Ham, they certainly held the player at fault for his next move.
He made the move down the A420 to Swindon, Oxfordâ€™s bitter rivals.
â€œI didnâ€™t want to go there either. But I had to get out of West Ham and Swindon were the only team at that moment who were interested.â€
Beauchamp didnâ€™t hold any grudge against the Hammers for getting rid of him, but for the rest of his career, he continued to receive abuse from some Oxford fans for daring to turn out for Swindon.
Many of them forgave him though, as he moved back to the Manor Ground in November 1995. According to Swindon manager, Steve McMahon, the deal was â€œworth Â£300,000â€ to the club. Swindon only received Â£75,000 for it, with the rest being the money theyâ€™d saved on his wages.
John Gorman was the manager when Beauchamp first arrived at the County Ground. A year later Steve McMahon was installed as manager, and the player knew he wasnâ€™t McMahonâ€™s type.
As he told the Oxford Mail;
â€œHe told me that I wasnâ€™t in his plans and that Birmingham and Millwall were interested in me.â€
â€œBut I simply turned to him and replied: â€˜Iâ€™m not interested in either of those clubs; if you donâ€™t want me, sell me back to Oxfordâ€™
â€œHe said that they would never be able to afford me, but I stayed firm. Oxford were the only club I wanted to go to.â€
The following March Beauchamp revered himself further to the Uâ€™s fans when he scored against his ex-employers in a 3-0 win.
During that month he scored, what Uâ€™s fans have voted as â€˜the greatest Oxford United goalâ€™ ever. It came against Blackpool.
The Oxford Mail described it.
â€œthe ball dropped out of the sky to Beauchamp, 35 yards from goal. The winger took a touch before sending a looping volley into the top corner in front of an ecstatic London Road end, to earn a valuable 1-0 win.â€
In remembering the player, the Oxford Mail quoted Steven Jennings who was at the Manor that day;
â€œI remember being in the London Road end right behind the goal when he hit that. I always remember that goal. Such sad news, he was Oxford through and through.â€
In a podcast discussion with other Oxford fans (The Ox Files), Beauchamp said the 1997-98 season was his favourite. It was when he felt at his peak. He scored 19 goals that season. Those fans all talked about many an occasion when he was simply unplayable. Some of the games were on Sky as Oxford United were in the second tier. Beauchamp explained how he often seemed to play better when the cameras were around and a decent crowd turned up.
In November 1998 two big clubs came calling again. Nottingham Forest and Southampton both offered Â£800,000 but the player couldnâ€™t agree on terms, so he stayed at the Manor Ground. Something else which didnâ€™t endear him to Swindon fans as their club missed out on a sell-on clause.
In September 1999 he scored the goal which knocked Everton out of the League Cup. By then, Oxford were in the third tier and only avoided relegation at the end of the season by a point.
His career fizzled out in the early 2000s. He played his final game for the club in February 2002 when he scored in a 1-2 defeat at home to Exeter City.
A persistent toe problem continued to cause him issues. He had to live with the consequences after his career too. It would be painful for days if heâ€™d walked around barefoot.
â€œWas it all worth it?â€ the Ox Files asked him. Without missing a beat he replied;
â€œOh yes. Definitely.â€
He felt the injury robbed him of three or four more seasons where he believed he could have come close to the clubâ€™s goalscoring record of 107. He ended with 77 goals from 428 appearances. Only nine players have turned out more often for the Uâ€™s and just five people have scored more than him.
In 2004 he joined Abingdon Town where he played alongside his brother, Luke.
For those under the age of 30, they might not know Oxford were once a First Division side. They boasted the likes of John Aldridge, Ray Houghton, Billy Hamilton, Jeremy Charles, Dean Saunders and Kevin Brock.
Leicester Cityâ€™s captain in their League Cup triumph in 2000, Matty Elliott, also started his career at the club.
The club has also employed Nigel Jemson, Jim Magilton and Dean Windass.
Yet through it all, Beauchamp is considered by many to be the very best theyâ€™ve seen. He will be sadly missed.
Beauchamp died on the 19th February. He was just 50 years old.
His first manager at Oxford, Brian Horton, said on the clubâ€™s website;
â€œJoey was such a talented footballer. At the time we had Jim Magilton, Micky Lewis and a pretty loud dressing room but Joey and Chrissy Allen stepped up as 17 or 18 year-olds, two quiet local lads, and they were fantastic for us. David Moss was the coach who worked with them and you could see them growing in confidence and belief. It was inevitable that a big club would come in for Joey. I turned down a bid from Wolves but when I left they had another offer from West Ham although that move didnâ€™t work out for him. But he came back to Oxford and did brilliantly. He was a pleasure to work with, a wonderful footballer and my thoughts are with his family and friends.â€
Dan Curtis on twitter @DanCurtis1972
â€œJoey Beauchamp. You beautiful footballer. You greatly misunderstood man. You were my absolute hero. Iâ€™m sad youâ€™re not here. So honoured to do this with you last year [The Ox Files â€“ 1997/98] I hope you realised how much we loved you, but I donâ€™t think you did. RIPâ€
â€œI lived across the road from Joey growing up. He was always kicking a football and always wanted to be a yellow. What a legend he became. So many amazing memories of him as an Oxford United player. RIP Joey. Thoughts go out to all his family and friendsâ€
Oxford United issued a statement;
â€œThe thoughts of everyone at Oxford United are with the family and friends of Joey Beauchamp, who has passed away aged 50.â€
Swindon Town also tweeted;
â€œWe are heartbroken to learn of the death of former Town player, Joey Beauchamp. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Joeyâ€™s family at this incredibly sad time.â€
Former teammate, Ross Weatherstone tweeted;
â€œHonoured to call you a friend & privileged to have graced the same football pitch as you. My thoughts are will all your family & especially your daughters. The greatest ever player to wear the YELLOW of Oxford United.â€
Reporter and Oxford United fan, Simon Watts, is also in no doubt as to where Beauchamp sits in the list of greatest players for the club;
â€œThe greatest players to ever pull on an Oxford shirt, my absolute hero growing up. Misunderstood by anyone who didnâ€™t support us Joey Beauchamp loved OUFC, nothing will ever beat the excitement of Joey picking the ball up running down the wing towards the London Road end.â€
Commentator and presenter, Jim Rosenthal tweeted;
â€œRIP Joeyâ€¦what a talentâ€¦just wanted to wear the yellow shirt of his hometown club. A personal favourite and up there with the best ever to play for #OUFCâ€¦heâ€™s left us much too soon..my condolences to all his family and loved one..â€
Andy Burgess, an Oxford United player from 2006 tweeted
â€œI was often told about a player called Joey Beauchamp when I was an Oxford United player â€“ his name was spoken of more than any other. He was not only an #OUFC legend, but an idol and one of their own. Such very sad news. RIP Joey Beauchampâ€
On the clubâ€™s website (oufc.co.uk), James Constable paid a tribute which seemed to sum up how the fans felt about Beachamp;
â€œYou couldnâ€™t talk about Oxford United without Joeyâ€™s name coming up, a fan’s favourite who understood what this club means to the fans. People always tell me you could feel the expectation every time he got the ball, like you were about to see something special. He will be missed by so many. A club legend who had yellow and blue running through his veins. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. RIP Joey.”
According to Communications Manager, Chris Williams;
â€œThe club will find a fitting way to pay tribute to Joey but ask fans to join us in a minuteâ€™s applause to show our respects before next Saturdayâ€™s home game against Cambridge Unitedâ€