Football can leave an indelible mark on the consciousness of fans. Stories of great seasons, games and moments are told and re-told, embellished and changed until they blend into the folklore of your club. The stories that endure are played out in great theatres in front of thousands of people but there is one story Oxford fans still tell that was played out in front of sparse crowds for no real purpose. How can that be? How did Jamie Guy’s 2007 pre-season goalscoring spree become the stuff of legend?
Guy’s arrival from Colchester United in July 2007 was supposed to help refocus his career, a teenage sensation at Colchester with a couple of Championship goals to his name, things had started to go ary. He was struggling to get a starting berth at Layer Road and had just been convicted of a number of driving offences, a fresh start was just what he needed.
To a club like Oxford, Guy’s shortcomings were easy to overlook. No player in the fifth tier is flawless, but a goalscorer can be the key to promotion. Manager Darren Patterson had set about building an exciting, attacking side to release the club from the mire which had been decades in the making. He brought in Lewis Haldane, James Constable, Rob Davies, Chris Carruthers and Joe Burnell, but Guy was his marquee signing.
In the Conference, looks count, an asymmetric haircut and neat line in free-kicks could win you a contract just because you looked a bit like David Beckham. Guy was strong and bullish, quick with a low centre of gravity, squint and his style could have been mistaken for Wayne Rooney.
His Oxford debut was in the first pre-season game against Brackley Town. Despite a 2-1 reverse to the Southern League side, Guy, though not fully match fit, was only denied a debut goal by a fine save from ex-Oxford keeper Richard Knight. His assist in Lewis Haldane’s consolation goal was a promising start.
Days later, the squad headed to Banbury United, after quarter of an hour, Guy burst from his own half to set up James Constable for the opening goal, seconds into the second half he smashed home his first goal for the club. Later, he netted his second, showing his class by rounding the Banbury goalkeeper to make it three in a 4-0 rout.
Another goal in a 3-1 win over Maidenhead United solidified Darren Patterson’s thinking, Guy and Constable were his first choice strike partnership, a decision he sealed by giving Constable the number 9 shirt for the season and Guy number 10.
With things looking promising, attention turned to the first home friendly of the summer against a Manchester United XI. Two years previously Jim Smith’s friendship with Sir Alex Ferguson had secured a pre-season game against a full strength United including Cristiano Ronaldo. The rassible Scot was less benevolent this time sending Ole Gunnar Solskjær down with a team of junior players including future England international Danny Drinkwater.
None-the-less the lure of the Red Devils persuaded a crowd of 6,000 to brave the blistering heat of mid-summer. Patterson, playing his strongest eleven, saw his side race into the lead with Yemi Odubade scoring the opener. After 52 minutes Guy picked up an Odubade pass, drove forward, cut inside the fullback and took aim, his first shot was blocked on the line but instinctively he followed up to fire home the rebound. Although Manchester United fought back to 2-2 the result, and Guy’s performance, was making waves.
The goal spree continued a few days later as James Constable back-heeled a lost cause to set Guy up to blast the ball past Wycombe keeper Scott Shearer in a 1-1 draw. With five goals in five games, Guy was the one-to-watch with his pace and power. If he could do this to League teams and the best youngsters in the country what might he do to Conference defenders?
Next up was more League opposition as Cheltenham Town visited the Kassam. It was a humbling experience to welcome a team that many Oxford fans considered beneath them, but they were sure to be another stern test.
The newly gelling side were more than a match for the League 1 side. Just before half-time, Guy sprinted 40 yards to convert an Adam Murray pass for the opening goal. A quick Cheltenham equaliser didn’t deter the Yellows as Guy drove home from inside the box to restor the lead before half-time.
The opening day of the season and a long trip to Barrow was looming, but for fans, it couldn’t come quickly enough. Patterson had built a side with real attacking potency able to frighten teams way above the Conference. Guy had converted seven goals in six games – a tally that would have made him the previous season’s third top scorer.
A prestige friendly completed pre-season as Harry Redknapp brought FA Cup holders Portsmouth to the Kassam. Pompey were showcasing their new £11m striker, England international Peter Crouch, who’d signed over the summer. For Oxford, securing the friendly was a coup, showing that we still mixed in the right circles, plus we had our own striking revelation to show off. The mood was celebratory, a final farewell to the summer before an assault on promotion.
Patterson fielded his strongest team with Guy and Constable once again up front. The opening minutes saw Guy, now full of confidence, showing his class against his illustrious opponents. The crowd buzzed contentedly.
Suddenly there was a deathly hush, the buoyant mood evaporated. Guy was gesturing to the bench and clearly limping. Darren Patterson hurriedly prepared Michael Husbands as Guy disappeared down the tunnel, nobody was ready to make a substitution after just eight minutes. The team battled to a creditable 2-1 defeat but all the talk was of the striker’s injury, the start to the season and how Oxford’s promotion plans were in tatters.
The hamstring injury initially ruled him out for a month, days later the team made the long trip to Barrow for the opening game of the season. Live on TV, Oxford were ominously swept aside 3-0. Guy didn’t return until the fifth game of the season by which time Oxford had won one game and failed to score in four. He returned for the August Bank Holiday draw against Woking looking a shadow of the wrecking ball striker the fans had seen over the summer.
His first goal came against Cambridge United in a 3-1 win at the end of September, but the writing was already on the wall. He showed moments of what had been, scoring in the FA Trophy and FA Cup, but mostly he seemed slow and unfit. Oxford were third from bottom and floundering. He’d get back in the side, but then slip out again with another niggling injury, more importantly he wasn’t scoring.
By early December it was all over for Darren Patterson, his promising attacking, entertaining side couldn’t pull themselves from the tractor beam of the relegation zone. Jim Smith took over as caretaker manager and Guy scored his final league goal in a 3-1 win over Mansfield, his first since the Cambridge game. But the writing was on the wall, whispers were that he was surplus to requirements.
Guy’s last game came on New Year’s Day away at Salisbury as new manager Chris Wilder took charge. Colchester cancelled his loan deal but that suited everyone just fine, a glorious summer romance had turned sour.
Guy lasted at Colchester for another year before slipping into the whirlpool of non-league, each new club hoped to reignite the promise he’d shown during that summer in Oxford. In 2011 he shattered his leg while playing for Braintree Town and was never the same again. While working as a hod carrier, in 2016 he received a suspended sentence for attacking his girlfriend during a row. Things seem to have stabilised since then, last year, aged 33, he could be found plying his trade in the Chelmsford Sunday League for Priory Sports.
There are a million footballers with Guy’s story; bad luck and bad decisions blighting the potential of a rare talent. Their stories are frequently lost in the noise, although for Oxford fans, they’ll always have that glorious summer.