Seeing that we’re travelling down the A420 on Saturday, now seems an appropriate time to induct the most hated player to wear the famous red of Swindon Town, Joey Beauchamp. Richard Banyard provides the biography of the Oxford United legend.
It’s over seventeen years since he left the Town, and more than ten since he last donned an Oxford shirt, but to this day his name is still sung at the County Ground (coupled with various expletives, of course). It had to happen at some point…. as a man who should have been destined only to play in the yellow and blue, Joey Beauchamp is the inevitable new addition to the STFC Hall of Shame.
Oxford born and bred, Beauchamp came up through the youth ranks at his beloved United after being spotted playing for local junior side Summertown Stars; before making his debut for the U’s on the final day of the 1988/89 season.
After a short loan spell at Swansea in 1991, his first introduction to Swindon came in the Anglo-Italian Cup early the following season (a game that the Town won on penalties) – five months later, he capped a good performance against the Town with two goals in a 5-3 victory for the U’s – Oxford’s first win against Swindon in eleven attempts. Gradually, his performances in a yellow shirt began to attract the interest of bigger clubs – when Oxford were relegated to Division Two in 1994, they were forced to off-load their star man.
With the U’s in severe financial difficulties, Premier League West Ham and recently relegated Swindon both showed interest in Beauchamp – and initially it appeared that the Town would get their man. This was until Beauchamp’s agent advised him not to sign and to wait for a better offer from Upton Park.
When the Hammers also had a bid accepted, Beauchamp initially rejected the move – reports later suggested that the winger had fallen out with Oxford boss Denis Smith before the club’s managing director told Beauchamp the stark truth, that if he did not sign for West Ham, Oxford would be in danger of going under. Eventually, Beauchamp signed, becoming the Hammers’ first million pound player in the process.
The transfer was to become infamous. A quick Google search for ‘Beauchamp West Ham’ reveals a plethora of results – listings of the “worst transfer deals in Premier League history”, “football U-turns”, “shortest transfers of all time”, and “worst ever West Ham signings” litter the screen. Almost immediately after signing, Beauchamp regretted the move – not willing to relocate having just purchased a property in Oxford, he found the daily commute to East London too much to handle.
“(Beauchamp) broke down in tears on his way to training on his first day because he was homesick,” said then assistant manager, Harry Redknapp. “Joey’s just got to get on with it. There’s nothing else he can do. He knew we wanted him to live nearer and then he suddenly decided he’s not going to. He admits driving up every day will make him tired and if that’s the case then I don’t see how he can do it without affecting his form.”
With the PFA telling him that he should take his time before making a decision, Beauchamp said, “The last thing I want to do is leave Oxford. I love the place so much. To be honest, I’ve not known which way to turn. It’s been a very traumatic time.”
To this day, many Hammers fans still hold Beauchamp partly responsible for manager Billy Bonds’ decision to resign – with a power struggle taking place behind the scenes, Redknapp suggested that Beauchamp’s antics were pivotal to Bonds’ decision in his autobiography: “Matters had still not been resolved by the time we played Portsmouth in a pre-season friendly. Beauchamp turned up late, made no effort on the pitch and it was the final straw for Bill.”
Interviewed some years later, Bonds described the signing as “a total disaster” and pulled no punches in his assessment: “He said he couldn’t settle at West Ham, that the club was too big for him. The boy was a total wimp, and it was disastrous for the club…. What could I say to the kid? I couldn’t threaten him. I just told him he’d better keep his nut down because the fans weren’t going to be too happy with him.”
After Bonds departed, Redknapp was promoted into the manager’s seat at Upton Park, and he was quick to deal with the situation. With Swindon boss John Gorman still interested, a deal worth £800,000 was quickly concluded – the Town parting with £300,000 plus Adrian Whitbread in exchange for Beauchamp – an interesting decision considering Swindon’s defensive frailties the season prior. Beauchamp’s time in East London had lasted just 58 days, and he had failed to make a single competitive appearance.
The reaction among the County Ground support was mixed – some were excited that a player with such potential was joining, others were unable to see past Beauchamp’s love of and connections with the enemy. At the other end of the A420, many Oxford fans were also unhappy with Beauchamp’s defection to their bitter rivals. Two days after signing, Beauchamp made his Swindon debut, coming on as a substitute in a 3-2 defeat at Tranmere.
Though Beauchamp obviously had talent, he didn’t show it often enough in a Swindon shirt. His performances were far too often inconsistent and he would regularly drift out of games. When he notched his first Town goal in a 3-2 win over Wolves in October 1994, it felt like it could have been a turning point. After scoring, Beauchamp sprinted fifty yards to jump into the arms of manager John Gorman to celebrate his 60th minute winner. Was he finally settling in?
Six weeks later, any chance that Beauchamp may have made a success of his County Ground career were effectively over. With Swindon plummeting down the table, another 3-2 defeat at local rivals Bristol City prompted the Town board to relieve Gorman of his duties – a week later, Steve McMahon was appointed as the new boss.
Not one for an inconsistent flair player, it was perhaps surprising that Beauchamp played in the vast majority of the remaining games in that season – less so that McMahon failed to get the best out of him. Though Swindon reached the semi-finals of the League Cup, their league form was awful, and come May, the Town succumbed to their second successive relegation. By this point though, McMahon had already placed Beauchamp on the transfer list.
Starting the 1995/96 season out of the side, Beauchamp was given a reprieve after coming on to score in a League Cup tie against Cambridge, and he started the game at Carlisle the following weekend. Four days later though, it was Oxford who would visit the County Ground – and though Beauchamp was only named on the bench, the Swindon fans taunted their local rivals, singing “Where’s your Beauchamp gone?” or for “Super Joey Beauchamp” – the roar when he entered the field as an 82nd minute substitute was far and away the best reception he ever got in a Swindon shirt.
As it was, he played just three more minutes for the Town after that game – early in October 1995, it was announced that a deal had been agreed for him to move back to his hometown club. McMahon presented the deal as being “worth £300,000” to the club – in reality, only £75,000 of this was the transfer fee – the rest being the saving of his wages.
The return to Oxford alone would surely have been enough to ensure that Beauchamp would be inducted into the STFC Hall of Shame, but he thoroughly cemented his place in it before the season was out.
With both clubs vying for promotion places, the Town’s visit to the Manor in March 1996 was a crucial encounter. With Swindon sitting eleven points above their rivals with two games in hand before the game, Oxford desperately needed a victory. As it was, the match proved to be one of a few blotches (albeit a big, ugly one…) on the Town’s otherwise impressive season – the 3-0 defeat their worst reverse of the season. To top it all, it was Joey who netted the final goal in front of the travelling support. At a time when the furore around Mad Cow Disease was at its peak, days after the game, Oxford fans produced tasteful commemorative “Mad Ox” t-shirts: “B.S.E. (Beat Swindon Easily).”
Come the end of the season, though Swindon comfortably won the division, Oxford finished in second place, just a point ahead of Blackpool – against whom Beauchamp scored a goal that was later voted as the best ever seen at the Manor.
for those of a sensitive disposition, look away now
The ’69er fanzine entry
Swindon got their revenge the following season, when Beauchamp and Oxford returned to the County Ground in October 1996. Beauchamp coming in for some vitriolic abuse from the stands (the “Super Joe” chants from the previous season being replaced with another two syllable word that begins with ‘W’ and ends in ‘anker’) whilst being blatantly singled out for rough treatment by the Town’s players. Mark Walters appearing to aim a kick at his head after a tangle on the floor and Ian Culverhouse tripping him up, left Beauchamp becoming visibly more annoyed, especially as the only intervention that referee Gurnan Singh made was towards Beauchamp for protesting!
A match report by the Sunday Mirror captured the essence of the “bruising” derby – describing an “ill-tempered match where football played second fiddle to a series of petty vendettas” and that “Beauchamp was mercilessly barracked by Swindon’s biggest crowd of the season… he even appeared to become a target for the players.”
McMahon gave a telling interview afterwards, stating, “I was delighted he got so much stick. I don’t want him coming here and people clapping him. It’s our job to make it difficult for the opposition to play and if it means giving people the bird that’s absolutely fine by me.”
Beauchamp’s performances took another upturn when back at the Manor – so much so that he was eventually voted as Oxford’s best player of the 1990’s. In November 1998, it again looked like he would leave, as the U’s agreed £800,000 fees with both Nottingham Forest and Southampton – and again it was reported that Beauchamp’s transfer fee would save the club. This time though, Beauchamp failed to agree personal terms and he remained at the Manor – and with a 20% sell-on clause, Swindon missed out on a £145,000 bonus.
Beauchamp returned to the County Ground three more times in his Oxford career – suffering two 4-1 defeats in 1997 and 1998 and a 2-1 reverse in October 2000. At the Manor, there were three victories for Oxford, before his final appearance in the A420 derby in March 2001, when he entered the fray as a 72nd minute substitute.
With the U’s marooned at the bottom of the league, 1-0 down and reduced to nine men, Beauchamp endured the taunts from the away support for the remaining eighteen minutes – then in injury time, Steve Robinson wrapped the game up with his second goal of the game…. a perfect end to our association with the latest inductee into the STFC Hall of Shame, Mr Joseph Daniel Beauchamp.
Before anyone asks….entry into the Hall of Shame is unordered