After the turbulence surrounding Joey Beauchamp’s movement between the two clubs and the 1995/6 promotion race, the derby settled into an era of stability.
There was new spice injected into the fixture, helped by Beauchamp’s ever presence in the Oxford team over that period, but it wasn’t a shadow of what had gone before.
Between 1996 and 2000 each of the next 7 meetings ended in home wins. It was like the sports/entertainment hybrids of 6 day track cycling or WWE wrestling where a feisty and exciting affair always concluded with a win for the local favourite.
Although the outcomes were becoming predictable, the sequence cemented both sides’ perception of Beauchamp and therefore each other. Most Oxford fans watched him on the winning side; most Swindon fans watched him on the losing side. Was Beauchamp a winner or a loser? From the evidence in front of them, the views of both sets of fans were right.
Neither side were good enough to go up nor bad enough to go down, but behind the scenes, Oxford were beginning to fall apart. Like an alcoholic who starts drinking in the pub and then on his own, and then, almost without realising, he’s suddenly downing a skin full of whiskey for breakfast.
The sequence of home wins was broken in 2001 in what was a wretched season. We’d lost at the County Ground in a game which was a complete shambles – illustrated most famously by Guy Whittingham’s one and only goal scoring appearance for Oxford. Five months later Swindon came to the Manor and took all 3 points back to Wiltshire. Not that we cared too much. By this point we were lying in a pool of our own vomit with piss stains on our trousers. Winning derbies, playing any kind of football, was a meaningless aside.
A fresh start – and a move to the Kassam Stadium – saw little improvement. The anticipated surging return never came. Firoz Kassam scrabbled to arrest the slide and happened upon Ian Atkins, who was able to administer cold dose of reality that seemed to straighten us up.
The move had instant impact and by 2002 we were challenging for promotion again. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. It was the perfect time to renew our acquaintance with those from Down-the-really-tedious-and-impossible-to-overtake-A-road-to-hell.
Next… the end.