Long read: Joey Beauchamp – a player for a generation

My dad spoke about it evocatively, a moment of silence, a collective disbelief. In the split of a second your mind slows the world down to allow your brain to comprehend what you’ve seen, converting it into a physical reaction. It happened to him once, watching Wolves in the 1960s, a moment in a game where your perception of what’s possible and the reality of what you’ve seen leaves a silent, motionless gap.

It lasts a nanosecond, but you can live in it for an eternity, even when it passes, fragments of your memory retain it. You can revisit it when you need a safe space. Physically, you move on, metaphysically, you can rest.

I’ve been there twice; against Wrexham in 2009; we needed a goal deep into injury-time to sustain our unlikely promotion charge out of the Conference. The ball was worked out to Craig Nelthorpe. At the other end, Billy Turley theatrically threw himself to the turf, he couldn’t watch, but we didn’t need him anymore, it was now or it was never. Nelthorpe looped in a cross, James Constable leapt, straining every muscle. He connected, guiding the ball towards goal. It clipped the underside of the bar and dropped down behind the line. The forging of what you want and what you get. And there it was, that moment of disbelief, a glimpse of hyper-reality, that silence. And then, an eruption.

But it was the first time that was most memorable and a moment that lives in the collective psyche of those who were there. Thirteen years earlier, almost to the day, we were emerging from what looked set to be an underwhelming season. Then we tacked into a strong following wind, suddenly finding ourselves on a run that was taking us closer to the play-offs. The next visitors to The Manor were Blackpool; top of the table, five places and thirteen points ahead of us. Win, and a play-off chance would become a genuine promotion charge, lose and the whole season would likely be over.

It was Easter weekend, The Manor was cold and grey, that was my favourite kind of day, a day an outsider wouldn’t understand. These were days for the most loyal. The game was tight and intense, good quality for the level. Eric Nixon, a long-term tormentor of Oxford from his days at Tranmere, kept the game goalless. We knew without a breakthrough we were vulnerable to a counterattack. On this moment the season would pivot.

Deep into the second half, Oxford were probing with increasing urgency, long balls played into giants like Paul Moody and Matt Elliot, hoping to get a knock down for poachers like David Rush or Martin Aldridge. It wasn’t always pretty, but it worked. Right back, Les Robinson floated a hopeful ball into the box; the Blackpool defence repelled it back into midfield. With it bouncing awkwardly at hip height, Joey Beauchamp brought the ball under control with his instep. Beauchamp, back from his a miserable time at West Ham and Swindon, had yet to show the player he once was. His first touch brought the ball to heel, then in a single movement he contorted his body to hook his boot around it on the half volley sending it looping towards the London Road goal. 

And then, the moment. I remember it vividly, the ball clipping the bar and nestling in the back of the goal. The rattling noise from it hitting the net. Through it all, a disbelieving silence. And then, an engulfing mayhem that flooded the senses; bodies, noise, a bombardment. Milliseconds earlier it looked like it was going over, maybe for a corner, but there in a moment was the breakthrough. 

This was the defining moment of Joey Beauchamp’s career, perhaps the defining moment of every Oxford fan standing in the London Road that day. Twenty-four years later, it’s a moment that needs no further elaboration. To Oxford fans, the goal is just ‘that goal’, and Joey Beauchamp is simply ‘Joey’.   

Beauchamp represented the slenderest golden thread from the glories of the mid-eighties to the more modest successes of the mid-90s.

He’d been a ball boy at Wembley for the 1986 Milk Cup Final and he got caught up in the post-match celebrations.

“The players came down the steps and got together for the team picture.” he told the Oxford Mail “Then I looked to my side to realise that every other ball boy had gone. I was stood in the middle of the pitch at Wembley and I was the only person there.”

He’d been discovered playing for Summertown Stars and nurtured to become one of the club’s brightest prospects. His professional debut too had a nod to those glory days, coming on for Lee Nogan for the last game of the 1989/90 season against Watford. In goal for Oxford that day was Wembley ‘keeper, Alan Judge.

Oxford is different, walk around That Sweet City and you’re struck by its beauty. Dig a little deeper; take an unprepossessing side street and you find quiet, eccentric genius; The Chronicles of Narnia, Radiohead and the educator of nearly 30 Nobel Prize winners. Strange and wonderous things. Fittingly, Joey was different; for all his talent, he was shy and understated, seemingly unaffected by his ability. He didn’t have the classic swagger of the great players; but when he played, he was mesmerising, among the best wingers in the country.

At the end of the 1980s we were readjusting to life as a second-tier club. Like a self-made millionaire who’d lost it all, we were still getting used to our life living in a semi-detached terrace house and driving a second-hand Ford Focus. For nearly a decade, Oxford had a conveyor belt of talent; Kevin Brock, Mark Wright, Andy Thomas alongside choice finds like John Aldridge, Ray Houghton and Dean Saunders. But the pipeline was running dry and, as we approached the 90s, the hangover of the 80s party was kicking in and it was difficult to know quite where we were going next.

Initially, there were delusions of bouncing straight back, Mark Lawrenson was a marquee manager fresh from a stellar career with Liverpool, but Robert Maxwell’s interest in the club was seeping away and with it any delusions the club had about  returning to the topflight. After a brief loan spell with Swansea, quietly Beauchamp worked his way into the starting eleven building a reputation as a talented, tricky winger. 

He was quick and direct with close ball control, he terrified defenders, they’d backtrack in hope of a moment to reset themselves. At the moment his opponents were most vulnerable, Beauchamp would cut inside to throw them off balance. He could be unplayable. Each cross and shot was a whole-body movement. It was pure poetry.

By 1992, Beauchamp’s career was in the ascendency just as the club were heading in the opposite direction. Robert Maxwell’s death the year before, and the scandals related to his fraudulent millions, ripped the funding and with it any hope from the club. 

Beauchamp’s first goal came in a home win over Sunderland at the end of 1991, three months later, a confident Swindon Town side came to The Manor. Swindon in 9th were managed by Glenn Hoddle and hunting a play-off spot. Oxford were second bottom and hadn’t beaten their local rivals for nearly ten years. 

Despite going behind, Oxford roared back to lead. At 2-1, Beauchamp terrorised the Swindon backline running the length of the pitch to make it 3-1 before half-time. In the second half he doubled his tally and scored Oxford’s fifth, in his signature style. It ended 5-3 win and was a classic. Beauchamp had arrived.

Despite these moments and Joey’s impressive form, our grip on the second tier was loosening. As we headed into the final game of the season away to Tranmere Rovers we were a point adrift of Plymouth Argyle in the relegation zone. We needed to win and for Plymouth, at Blackburn Rovers, to lose in order to survive.

Tranmere were full of experience featuring former internationals John Aldridge and Pat Nevin. Aldridge had scored nearly forty goals in a team which, in the following seasons, would see Rovers pushing for promotion to the top-flight. It was a day for bravery, not just ability. 

Fifteen hundred Oxford fans travelled in hope on a swelteringly hot day. Beauchamp, Oxford’s youngest player, tore into Tranmere in the first half, his direct running coming close to winning it in the first half alone. It was as if the unassuming junior of the side had taken on the responsibility as a personal mission to save his hometown club. 

With the season on a knife edge and Aldridge and Nevin ready to pounce on any error, Oxford still looked vulnerable. Just before the hour, a poor back pass allowed John Durnin in to give Oxford the lead. Two minutes later, the ever-ruthless Aldridge, equalised giving him a club record goal haul and threatening to send his old team down. With 25 minutes left, Beauchamp ran through, bouncing off a defender before slotting the ball between Eric Nixon’s legs for the winner. With Plymouth losing at Blackburn, Joey had saved us.

The celebrations were euphoric, the game etched into Oxford folklore, the local boy was a hero. But it was just brief rest bite from the trajectories both parties found themselves on. As we gradually succumbed to the inevitable aftermath of the glory years, Beauchamp’s path was clearly upwards; perhaps to the very top.

After another season in a struggling side, Swindon Town began making their first enquiries about the winger. They were heading for the Premier League and Beauchamp would have slotted right into their ambitious plans. Beauchamp, however, turned them down.

The parting eventually came at the end of the 1993/4 season. In the league we suffered a terrible start, in part due to the disruption caused by Brian Horton’s unexpected departure to Manchester City. He was replaced by Denis Smith who faced a race against time to find a winning formula. 

The FA Cup offered a relief from the pressure. In the third round we drew Leeds United. In these pre-internet days, tickets were bought in person or on the phone. I was at university and missed out. Oxford, kicking down the slope towards the London Road, started like a rocket. A beautifully weighted ball from Beauchamp set Jim Magilton free to cross for Alex Dyer to score the first. A Matt Elliot drive doubled the lead before Leeds fought back to force a replay. 

At Elland Road, Oxford again took the lead with a John Byrne goal, then Beauchamp and Chris Allen combined to make it 2-0. Unfathomably, in the final minute, Oxford contrived to concede twice, forcing the tie into extra time. Despite having thrown away giantkilling opportunities twice, against all odds, Jim Magilton lobbed home to seal the win.

It was a famous night, but ultimately one which damaged Oxford’s hopes of avoiding relegation as Jim Magilton was sold within days of the win.

In the fifth round, Oxford drew Chelsea and I was determined see this one. My train across London, and the bus out to Headington was tortuous and I missed kick-off. I bustled through the turnstile, climbing the steps into the densely packed London Road. As I perched at the back of the stand looking for a gap to sneak through there was a tangible swell in the stand, my eyes focussed on the pitch just in time to see the ball loose just outside the six yard box, arriving at speed to open the scoring was Beauchamp, the celebrations drew me into the swarm. It was a moment of joy, but we couldn’t hold out, Mike Ford missed a penalty as we slipped to a 2-1 defeat. 

It was a highlight of an otherwise bleak season. By May, Oxford faced another final day with their fate out of their hands. This time, the gods weren’t with us and despite Beauchamp scoring a remarkable winner in a 2-1 victory over Notts County, results for Birmingham City and West Brom ensured it was no more than a valedictory. We were going down; Beauchamp, though, was going up.

Oxford were crippled with debt with no financial backing and a much loved, but crumbling, Manor Ground. The Hillsborough disaster in 1989 changed regulations for stadia in the UK, The Manor’s capacity was reduced by 40% over five years. The ever-stretching elastic holding the club together finally snapped.

West Ham’s £1.2 million bid was too good to turn down. Beauchamp was faced with his tormenting reality; he wanted to play football; he just didn’t want to be a star. Ultimately the choice was stark – either Beauchamp signed or Oxford United would go bust.

“I didn’t really want to move at the time” Beauchamp told Rage On fanzine “I was buying a house and I needed the money that I’d make from a move. I didn’t know what to do when West Ham came in for me. I really didn’t know whether I wanted to move or not.” 

What happened next has been raked over endlessly, though rarely in a satisfactory way. With the inevitable pressure and expectation of his big move, Beauchamp’s insecurities bubbled to the surface. He didn’t want to be there, just days after arriving, he wanted to leave.

Beauchamp said his agent told him he could live in Oxford while commuting to East London. Beauchamp bought his house and signed his contract at Heathrow Airport, just 45 minutes from his home. On the face of it, it was a dream move; money, Premiership football and living in his home city. What he hadn’t accounted for was that playing for West Ham meant battling through peak rush hour to compete within a squad full of machismo with the likes of Julian Dicks and Martin Allen. For a self-confessed family man and local boy, it was an entirely different world. 

Even now, when Beauchamp’s story is told, people talk disparagingly about the fact you can get from Oxford to London in an hour. They don’t talk about the additional hour it can take to get out to the east side of the city. Ironically, those who use this to claim Beauchamp was somehow soft, are making the exact same mistake he did when he signed. 

More importantly, only recently people have told this as a mental health story. Beauchamp was a young man thrown into an unforgiving macho world with no support. For years Harry Redknapp, West Ham’s assistant manager, capitalised on Beauchamp’s failings by pumping up his own role in the proceedings. It’s all part of Redknapp’s happy-go-lucky persona; how he can effortlessly blow a £1million on a pup and walk away unchecked. A proper Jack the lad. He talks about it like he’d bought a Ford Capri but left it with a Police Aware sticker down a back road. All a bit of a laugh, nobody got hurt. Apart from Beauchamp, but in Redknapp’s world, he didn’t count.

Although Redknapp has dined out on the story for years, the man who brought Joey to West Ham was manager Billy Bonds. The player signed a three-year deal worth £2000 a week and was briefly West Ham’s record signing. At his first training session Beauchamp announced he’d made a mistake and that he should have signed for Swindon. 

Bonds was initially sympathetic, recognising his own shyness when first joined The Hammers as a teenager. But when Beauchamp turned up for a pre-season friendly against Portsmouth and appeared to put in little effort, he became less accommodating. ‘The boy was a total wimp.’ Bonds said in his autobiography ‘I just told him to keep his nut down because the fans weren’t going to be too happy with him either.’ It was hardly helpful advice for a young and troubled man.

There are few pictures of Beauchamp playing in West Ham colours, ironically, most come from a friendly in his hometown against Oxford City. In it Redknapp apparently gave an abusive fan a place in the West Ham side to prove his worth. Another story for the Redknapp mythology.

Relations rapidly grew strained as Beauchamp tried to extract himself from his nightmare. Eventually the PFA stepped in to facilitate a move to Swindon for £200,000 plus defender Adrian Whitbread. He’d been a West Ham player for just 58 days.

Bonds described the signing as his worst ever, and the affair is widely believed to be a significant factor in him quitting a few weeks later. However, with Redknapp taking over, the internal politics at Upton Park couldn’t be ignored.

Just six weeks after signing Beauchamp had found an escape, of sorts. Swindon were ambitious for a return to the Premier League and a commutable distance from Beauchamp’s home. It’s not what he wanted, but it was better than what he had.

The move wasn’t as bad as is sometimes suggested. In his first season, he played over 50 games. Beauchamp was an exciting flare player, one of the best in the country who could propel The Robins back to the Premier League. But, if he was to truly settle and gain acceptance, his backstory meant he had to do double the work of anyone else to win people over.

Wingers are frequently inconsistent, and Beauchamp was no exception, his initial performances were underwhelming, his first goal came against Wolves in October 1994, a 25-yard low drive in a 3-2 win. He ran to the touchline and leapt into the arms of manager John Gorman, who he’d later describe as ‘brilliant’. But Swindon were already in trouble; Gorman had taken over from Glenn Hoddle who had masterminded their ascent to the Premier League before being poached by Chelsea. Their Premier League experience had been brutal, winning just five games and conceding 100 goals. The assumption was that they could dust themselves off and return, but the reality was far tougher. Gorman, a good assistant who took England to the World Cup in 1998, struggled when faced with the top job. 

In the end he wouldn’t make it to Christmas, a 3-2 defeat at local rivals Bristol City meant he was sacked in preference for Steve McMahon.

“Within a few weeks of McMahon coming in he made it clear that he didn’t like me” Beauchamp said “He didn’t like me, Andy Mutch, Adrian Viveash or Brian Kilcline. We were the four that he wanted out straight away.” 

McMahon was an old Liverpool warhorse whose career had been built on his metronomic reliability. He didn’t want show ponies like Beauchamp, they were too inconsistent, an indulgence. Their problems were deeper than that and their collapse resulted in a second successive relegation. McMahon put Beauchamp on the transfer list.

The following season, Beauchamp scored against Cambridge in the League Cup and started against Carlisle the following weekend. The rapid-fire opening to the season continued with the visit of Oxford the following Tuesday. McMahon dropped the winger to the bench. I remember Joey appearing on the touchline to warm up, swamped in a giant coat as Oxford fans sang songs about his girlfriend, Chloe. The Swindon fans feigned their support for him, which he must have known was superficial and just to goad the away fans. He looked sad, lost in a world not of his choosing. Rejected by one side, objectified by the other. Some players feed off this kind of notoriety but he wasn’t that kind of player, there was no on-field persona to cocoon him from the abuse. Eight minutes from time, he came on but failed to make an impact as Oxford secured a creditable 1-1 draw.

Beauchamp played just more three more minutes for Swindon, despite interest from Birmingham and Millwall, Beauchamp asked to return to Oxford. Showing his characteristic stubbornness, McMahon agreed. The deal was said to be worth £300,000 but a substantial amount was saving Beauchamp’s wages. The real figure was likely to be less than a third of that.

I’d expected Beauchamp’s return to be a triumphant one; the streets lined with supporters, The Manor full to the brim, the returning hero. We knew he was still the million-pound match winner West Ham had bought,] now we had him back. In fact, the reality was quite different. Our season had been fitful, the core of the side with Matt Elliot, Phil Gilchrist, Paul Moody and others meant that as proved in the draw with Swindon we could be competitive against the best teams in the division. But with injury to goalkeeper Phil Whitehead and pre-season signing, the ageing Wayne Biggins not scoring, the overall impact was like a boxer who’d shed a few pounds to make the weight, superficially we looked competitive but in reality we were drained. 

Beauchamp returned against Stockport County at The Manor. He was immediately put in the starting line-up but was largely anonymous in the 2-1 win. He was obviously still struggling from the experience of the previous few months. The next three games Beauchamp was substituted, and by the time we played Shrewsbury Town at the end of October, he was on the bench. The difference from his experiences at West Ham and Swindon was that Oxford’s fans and management would give Beauchamp latitude to settle in, in a way the others wouldn’t. 

By November, Oxford’s season had been pedestrian, home form was propping up poor away form; the play-offs and promotion were seemingly out of reach. An FA Cup first round tie against Dorchester Town was a welcome distraction. Dorchester, featuring former Oxford goalkeeper Ken Veysey, had their spirit broken with two early goals. In the second half David Rush ran riot as more flooded in. Beauchamp was introduced in the second half to torment the beleaguered non-leaguers. Charging down the left flank he cut inside in his customary style to slot home the eighth. It was the most Beauchamp of goals and proof he could still do it. The final score, a record 9-1 win was significant, but Beauchamp breaking his duck somehow more so.

That hoodoo dispelled, Beauchamp set about reclaiming his place in the side, interviewed in the Oxford Mail around Christmas he challenged Denis Smith to play him. It was a risk, but it worked.

By the end of January he was playing again. Then, there was a key breakthrough, an FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest was postponed with the players already on route to the game. The Denis Smith diverted the coach and gave the players an impromptu training session. In it, he worked on a new system they’d planned for the Forest game. It was eventually road tested on a cold foggy night at Burnley with Oxford registering their first win on the road.

After another month of so-so form we headed for Carlisle United. Despite going a goal down, Oxford fought back with Matt Elliot firing in a 30-yard rocket into the top corner. Before half time, from a Phil Gilchrist long throw, Martin Aldridge poked home the winner. It fired a sequence of five consecutive wins that changed the course of the season. Significantly Beauchamp was ever-present, scoring his first league goal in the 1-0 win at Bournemouth. He wouldn’t miss another game all season. 

The squad suddenly found the perfect balance; up front, there was battering ram Paul Moody or the goal poacher Martin Aldridge. If they could be contained, then there was always David Rush. Supply on the flanks came from Beauchamp and Stuart Massey. The midfield of Martin Gray and Dave Smith anchored the operation in front of a defensive wall of Les Robinson, Phil Gilchrist, Matt Elliot, Mike Ford and Phil Whitehead.

With the run looking more than just a flash in the pan, Swindon Town were back at The Manor. It was a Tuesday night, the darkness enveloped The Manor, blocking out the space in the surrounding streets. Inside the ground, the stands were full without a space between one fan and another. With Swindon top of the table and Oxford being the form side in the division, neither side would give an inch. There was a density, a completeness, a single whole, the biggest game at The Manor for a decade. At the epicentre of it all was Joey Beauchamp.

The run-up to the game wasn’t without incident; I’d got a ticket for a friend at work and washed it into a mulch in my jeans. After a panic, the club replaced it, and we headed to The Manor.

The Beauchamp affair had turned a grumbling dislike between the clubs into open hostility. The singing was loud and shredded the throats. Midway through the first half with Swindon pressing menacingly, the ball dropped to Matt Elliot who swung a tree trunk sized leg at the ball. He connected perfectly arrowing the ball through the crowd in front of him. From the London Road is was possible to follow its trajectory all the way into the bottom corner. The melee in the London Road knocked me off my feet and span me round. I was no longer in control of my movement; I had become part of an amorphous whole. My friend, who was 6ft 4inch with the darkness of Nick Cave, was no longer next to me, then he appeared across my line of vision – somebody had grabbed him around the waste and was bouncing him around like a rag doll. He submitted to it with a huge child-like smile on his face.

The goal propelled Swindon to pile on the pressure and seek an equaliser, as league leaders they weren’t going to give up lightly, and certainly not to us. Early in the second half a quick break away allowed Martin Aldridge to bundle home the rebound from a David Rush drive to double the lead. 

The job was to keep possession and not invite any kind of fightback. Deep into the second half, Paul Moody dropped deep to pick up the ball up on the right flank. Just a few paces ahead of right-back Les Robinson, in his own half, he was in alien territory for a target man. With few options he set off on a lengthy run directly down the flank. His rangy gate gave the impression his intentions were just to stall. As he advanced, Swindon backed off more, drawing in more defenders towards the looming threat. Moody suddenly found himself on the edge of the box, instinctively, he put in a low bouncing cross. Arriving at the far post was Beauchamp, all alone to slot home on the half-volley; super-Joey homesick, the soft lad, the wimp, vengeful and ruthless. He continued his run across the Cuckoo Lane terrace where the Swindon fans were penned in, swinging celebratory rabbit punches in their direction, a strangely Beauchamp like response. Instinctive but understated, it capped one of the great nights at The Manor.

The goal marked the first of four in the next five games for Beauchamp culminating in his wonder strike against Blackpool. From there on, the season turned into a riot. Days after the Blackpool win we went to Wycombe, who had beaten us 4-1 at The Manor earlier in the season and held a hoodoo over us since becoming acquainted a few years earlier. We thundered to another famous win in as Beauchamp whipped in the corner to allow Stuart Massey to score Oxford’s second of three goals. 

A numbing last-minute draw against Notts County followed but it didn’t knock our momentum. Beauchamp set up Paul Moody for Oxford’s second in a 2-0 win at Bristol City. Three days later, he set up three and scored another in a 6-0 destruction of Shrewsbury, all six goals coming from headers. The penultimate weekend we were away to Crewe, themselves fighting for a play-off spot. Chaos reigned as Oxford fans worked their way into all parts of the ground. Already a goal up, Beauchamp glanced home a second half header from a David Rush cross in a 2-1 win. Critically Blackpool, 15 points ahead a few weeks earlier, were losing at home to Walsall.  

Having lost only six games all season, Blackpool had gone on to lose four and draw two of the next six. They had choked in the most remarkable way. Spooked by the nature of their defeat to Oxford, and Beauchamp’s goal, manager Sam Allardyce had chosen to go for promotion with the minimum possible risk, but he’d gone too far, too defensive; it had backfired spectacularly. 

Oxford moved into the second automatic promotion spot; if they could match Blackpool’s score in their last game against Peterborough, they would be promoted.

Seven days later, The Manor was full and expectant; the first half tense. While Peterborough were content to see the season out, they weren’t going to lie down and let us take the glory. Despite making a handful of chances, by half-time we still hadn’t broken through. The tension cranked up a notch. Half-time gave the players time to think about the challenge ahead, confront the fear of failure. The risk was that with the adrenaline of the first half draining away over the break, we’d descend into paralysis.

Shortly after the re-start we won a corner in front of the London Road, Beauchamp swung the ball in through a crowd of players, Peterborough striker Ken Charlery got his head to it, but it simply created chaos in front of the Peterborough goal. Juiliano Grazioli, the other Peterborough striker, could do nothing but steer it into his own net. The divine intervention of an own goal broke the seal and from there on it was one-way traffic. In six rapid-fire minutes, David Rush added a second, taking his shirt off and using it as a flag in celebration. Matt Elliot and Paul Moody weighed in with the third and fourth. If there had been any justice, Beauchamp would have rounded things off, but it didn’t happen. It’s one of Beauchamp’s biggest regrets “I could try and claim the first goal because it was from my corner that Grazioli headed into his own net, but I really wish I had scored.” He later said.

Promotion was sealed and all the fear and toil drained away.

Afterwards, the players wandered around shell shocked that it was finally over. With no trophy to pick up the afternoon lacked an obvious end point. For no obvious reason Denis Smith appeared in a red wig, reminding people that he was once considered a future England manager. Possibly by himself.

Beauchamp’s journey was complete; back at his boyhood club and at a level that he could thrive. Early in the new season we were back at the County Ground. The hostility off the pitch was predictable, but Beauchamp’s former manager Steve McMahon also seemed keen for retribution.

Swindon centre-back Mark Seagraves led the way, raking his boot down the back of Beauchamp’s thigh. Mark Walters’ kicked him in the face during a tussle on the ground before Seagraves exacted more verbal abuse. The petty fouls continued with referee Gurnan Singh seemingly content it was just part of the blood and thunder of a derby, part of the narrative. It was a brutal and ugly game in which Swindon snatched a 1-0 win. 

McMahon’s post-match interview was grim, “I was delighted he got so much stick.” He said “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.”

With streetwise striker Nigel Jemson leading the line, Beauchamp and Oxford enjoyed a solid return to the second tier. But trouble was looming off the pitch. Early in the season owner, Robin Herd resigned as the club’s planned move to its new stadium ran aground. Without the financial support or prospect of moving from The Manor; the club were more exposed than ever. Matt Elliot was sold to Leicester City for £1.6m to prop the club up. The season ended with a creditable 17th place, three points clear of Swindon, including a satisfying 2-0 revenge win at the Manor in April.

The 1997/8 season saw a familiar trend; the foundations of the club began to crumble while Beauchamp’s star began another familiar ascent. By Christmas, he’d scored 10 goals, playing in a more central role, but the team were showing the strain of playing above the level they were financially equipped to cope with. By Christmas, Oxford were just two points clear of the relegation zone. 

On Christmas Eve 1997, manager Denis Smith was poached by West Brom, the attraction of a bigger and more stable club heading for the play-offs being too good to turn down. Seeking inspiration, the club turned to Milk Cup winning captain Malcolm Shotton.

Shotton was a disciplinarian, more in the mould of Beauchamp’s nemesis Steve McMahon. While noting how hard the training became under his new manager, Beauchamp wasn’t a soft touch, he was more mature and had become steeled by his past experiences. Shotton had to tread a fine line if he was going to get the most from his prize asset.

Shotton was formally unveiled before a home game against Portsmouth. Not having met the players, he chose to sit in the Beech Road stand and allow caretaker Malcolm Crosby to take control. In an edgy relegation battle, at half-time Peter Rhodes-Brown announced that Shotton was in the dressing room sending a buzz of anticipation through the terraces. In the second half he appeared on the touchline barking instructions. His presence seemed to have the desired effect. In the last minute Joey Beauchamp latched onto a deep cross at the far post to score the winner. Two Oxford legends, from different generations combining.

A week later, Beauchamp added another brace, the second a breathtaking solo goal from the flank, taking his tally for the season to 14 as Oxford registered a 3-1 away win over league leaders Nottingham Forest. Suddenly there was momentum inspired by Shotton and executed by Beauchamp.

With the goals flowing, Beauchamp’s reputation was gaining renewed traction. His ability began shining through the reputation that had been tainted by the West Ham and Swindon debacles. In addition, there was no doubt there was a price that Oxford couldn’t ignore. For Beauchamp, now 27, if he had any ambition to play in the Premier League, any move would have to be soon. Bolton were first to enquire, but Shotton held firm.

With Beauchamp in the form of his life, Shotton’s influence was transforming the team; Denis Smith’s West Brom were turned over at The Manor, Beauchamp steered home a goal in a win over Manchester City at Maine Road. There were wins over Reading and then Swindon, with Beauchamp providing assists for both goals in a 2-1 win. 

The remarkable turnaround saw Oxford safe from relegation before they were, at least mathematically, out of the promotion race. Youngsters Simon Marsh and Paul Powell were called up to the England Under 21s, there were even suggestions that Malcolm Shotton should win manager of the season. While outside promotion hopes ebbed away, the star of the show was Beauchamp, who scored 19 goals and missed just two games, even though it was Les Robinson who won player of the season. Beauchamp speculated whether his Swindon days had played against him in the vote.

Inevitably, the summer was full of speculation about Beauchamp’s future. Denis Smith put in a £800,000 bid from West Brom. Shotton alluded to the fact he would be ready to sell, if it allowed him to strengthen elsewhere. 

Even into October, bids were coming in and the speculation seemed to be affecting Beauchamp’s form. He spoke with Fulham after the clubs agreed a £1m deal but couldn’t agree personal terms with boss Kevin Keegan, who had been in the players’ lounge at the Swindon game. Then, as a takeover bid for the club fell through, Manchester City made an enquiry, Beauchamp, again, was reluctant.

Speaking to Rage On around that time Beauchamp said “If ever I did leave it would be a big wrench, I love it here and now everyone knows it. I’m a local lad and I’m playing for the local team and that’s something that I wanted to do since I was young.” 

By the middle of November 1998 a move seemed to be coming together. Shotton agreed an £850,000 deal with Dave Basset at Nottingham Forest. With the move set to go through Beauchamp failed a medical due to back and toe injuries. Beauchamp protested, claiming, quite reasonably, that he rarely missed a game through injury. It fell on deaf ears.

The collapse of the deal was significant; financial problems at the club were biting. For the second time in his career, it seemed Beauchamp’s talent was the only way out of the mess. He could feel the pressure building and Shotton couldn’t hide his frustration at his unwillingness to comply.

A bid from Southampton collapsed when Beauchamp asked for time to think the move over. With food parcels being delivered to back room staff, Beauchamp – often the club’s saviour on the pitch – couldn’t or wouldn’t be one off it.

The club continued to limp along with relegation and bankruptcy the most likely outcome; Beauchamp’s goals, so plentiful the previous year, had dried up.

Three days after Christmas, he was sent off in a game at Portsmouth resulting in a three-game ban. The red card wasn’t just a blow to the club’s relegation fight, it also meant Beauchamp would miss Oxford’s upcoming FA Cup 4th Round tie against Chelsea.  

The difference between the two sides couldn’t have been more stark; Chelsea were full of internationals and World Cup winners, Oxford were threadbare and broke, weakened further by the loss of Beauchamp and ineligible on loan goalkeeper Paul Gerrard. 

In previewing the game, The Guardian summarised the club’s plight; “In many ways, Beauchamp sums up the mad, inverted Oxford world. While the rest of football bemoans players’ lack of loyalty, Oxford’s finances have suffered from Beauchamp’s undying love for his home-town club. The club’s only £1million-plus asset, he has refused two moves to Premiership clubs this season, saying he wishes to stay on and help. Now, Shotton’s one player with the skills to worry Chelsea’s increasingly composed defence is suspended for the game.”

As the game progressed, however, Oxford seemed to be holding their own. Early in the second half Dean Windass turned in a Jamie Cook near-post corner for 1-0. Thereafter, Oxford were treated to a man of the match performance from freshman ‘keeper Elliot Jackson. There were even chances to double the lead through Kevin Francis and Jamie Cook. 

As the clock ticked into injury time, Oxford were on the verge of one of the greatest FA Cup upsets of all time. A final Chelsea corner was scrambled away, Kevin Francis lunged in to win the ball from Gianluca Vialli. Referee Mike Reid pointed to the spot, appearing to judge the challenge on Francis’ ungainly style as replays showed he got the ball cleanly. Frank LeBeouf converted the penalty to earn a replay. It was a footballing blow, from a business perspective, it was a godsend.

Despite the injustices of the draw, the replay provided more cash to aid the survival. Some fans even asked Chelsea to donate their share of the gate to the club’s plight. Shotton kept faith in the 11 that started the first game, meaning Beauchamp would only appear from the bench. Despite taking a surprise first half lead, we eventually slipped to a 4-2 defeat. 

What was happening off the pitch was even more significant. The squad were gifted a stay at millionaire Firoz Kassam’s central London hotel. With Beauchamp unable to find a deal to leave, only one option remained, the appearance of a rich benefactor, Kassam seemed to offer the club hope. By April, the takeover was complete, and the hands of fate released their grip from the club’s throat. For the first time in a decade, it could breathe.

The centrepiece of Kassam’s plan was to restart the stalled stadium project. On the pitch, he either didn’t know what to do to revitalise the team or he didn’t care. The blight on the squad was evident, and with Beauchamp digging his heals in, striker Dean Windass, who had compensated for Beauchamp’s loss of goalscoring form, was sold to Bradford City, ironically Oxford’s relegation was confirmed his new club on the penultimate weekend of the season. 

A decent start to the following campaign raised hope of a quick return. After an encouraging 1st Leg 1-1 draw with Everton in the 2nd Round of the Worthington Cup, Oxford headed to Goodison Park to register a shock 1-0 away win with Beauchamp scoring winner. Despite this, trouble was brewing behind the scenes. Malcolm Shotton’s uncompromising and sometimes confrontational style was wearing thin among a number of players who knew the club need them more than they need the club. A run of five consecutive defeats at the end of October was enough for the new owner to fire his manager.

As the sun dawned on a new millennium, fans reflected on the decade that had just passed. It had been a time that saw us survive in the face of seemingly endless financial problems, no small part of that was down to Beauchamp who was voted Oxford United’s player of the decade.

Having narrowly escaped relegation at the end of the 1999/2000 season, Firoz Kassam, leveraged the uncertainty of his on-off stadium project to offer his out of contract players a single year extension. Beauchamp wanted two years and despite interest from Reading, he eventually signed up to the club’s inevitable fight against relegation.

The 2000/2001 season was catastrophic, the club were tossed from one embarrassment to another conceding 100 goals and ending up rock bottom of the division. Relegation was confirmed as early as March. Even Beauchamp’s talismanic presence couldn’t prevent the unmitigated disaster, it was like a tsunami even he couldn’t hold back. Maybe it was a long time coming, perhaps the previous decade of near misses and struggle through adversity simply caught up with us.  

The bruising debacle of the previous season was softened by the completion of the new stadium, the appointment of a new manager in Mark Wright and, it was hoped, a new dawn. For Beauchamp, a player who had resisted moves to bigger and more successful clubs in the hope that his own would soon be on the up, things began to go horribly wrong. 

He missed the first game at the new stadium; the toe injury which put paid to his move to Nottingham Forest persisted and got worse, the back injury too was causing him trouble. He started the second game away at Swansea and then appeared as substitute for Phil Gray in the League Cup at home to Gillingham. But the injury flared up again as a series of specialists battled to find the source of the problem. Later Beauchamp later admitted his style of play had caught up on him “Being so left-footed with all the twisting and turning had taken its toll and my toe was agony. I was having pain-killers and injections before, during and after games just to get me through.”

Mark Wright was quickly under pressure from a poor start to the season. He finally broke his silence, criticising Beauchamp and Paul Powell for their lack of commitment. 

“It seemed like he had it in for me and Paul Powell from the word go,” Beauchamp said later “We were the local boys, who he maybe felt had it easy because all the fans loved us.”

But it was Beauchamp’s injury that Wright had the biggest problem with.

“My toe had been getting progressively worse over the years. It was so painful that I told him there was no chance I could play in one match and he came out in the paper on the Monday and slaughtered me.”

But the injury was real, and serious. Wright’s tenure was in trouble; he and his assistant Ted McMinn struggled to extract results from the new team. There hadn’t been time to cleanse the club of its previous year’s experiences, the new stadium didn’t feel like home and the squad struggled to gel. Already rocking, everything came to a head when Wright was fired after he was alleged to have racially abused referee Joe Ross in a home game against Scunthorpe. Firoz Kassam turned to Ian Atkins to revitalise the club. For Beauchamp, it felt like a reprieve. 

“Everyone was saying to me that he (Atkins) couldn’t wait for me to get back which was a huge boost,” Beauchamp remembers.

Beauchamp didn’t return until February. Despite being in increasing amounts of pain, he finally returned for the home game against Exeter City. 

“I remember that I had trained – in pain – all week before the Exeter game. I had a fitness test on the morning of the game and the manager came over and asked me how I was. I was desperate to play and told him I was fine, even though it was really hurting me.”

“But then it all went wrong.”

The half-finished stadium, with its open end and gaps in the corner meant the wind blew in multiple directions at the same time. For the Exeter game, the weather was atrocious and the result seemed to rest on who could score the most goals with the wind behind their backs. 

In the first half, Oxford, already a goal down, were battling the conditions as well as their opponents. Paul Powell crossed the ball towards Andy Scott, Exeter defender Steve Flack out muscled him in the air to head away. The ball hung in the wind and dropped on the edge of the box. Poised, watching it fall was Beauchamp who executed a trademark volley to fire home the equaliser.

The cross from the full-back, the knock down from the defender, and Beauchamp’s crafted left foot, the goal was an almost perfect replay of his career defining moment against Blackpool six years earlier. 

Poetically, and tragically, the goal and the game brought Beauchamp’s career to a premature end. He was thirty-one and despite his defiant attempts to get fit and his odd appearance on the bench, the persistent toe injury just wouldn’t heal. Eventually, doctors was told that he faced a terrible dilemma – have an operation to fix his toe, but risk stress fractures that would put him out for longer. With his lucrative contract coming to an end at the end of the season, the player who for over a decade had been the club’s greatest asset, had become its greatest liability.

The end was unceremonious and undignified, Kassam cancelled Beauchamp’s contract. Beauchamp took the club to court arguing that he was due an automatic extension because the stadium had been completed. In the end the parties settled out of court, and while there was talk of a testimonial, it took 9 years to materialise.

Living in a modest house within walking distance of the old Manor Ground Beauchamp’s faced up to the realities of his post-football career. He played for Abingdon Town and made occasional appearances in the Oxford Mail playing Aunt Sally, that most Oxfordshire of games. It’s on the dog track that Beauchamp felt most at home as owner and professional gambler. Years earlier he’d talked about his passion for greyhounds and gambling – he owned two dogs Nashua Dream and Dona Madina and was on Ladbrokes’ hit list due to his winnings

But, Beauchamp’s story is a classic of 90s football; prior to the Premier League years, football had never been a career that would set you up for life. Footballers ran pubs or car dealerships after their playing days ended. Suddenly, players were making big money that afforded you a luxurious life. The things was, when ordinary life caught up, the bills continue to roll in. The money quickly ebbed away and the pressures of life build. Players who are idolised become ordinary; the struggle emotionally, financially and socially becomes very real. 

Everything came to a head in 2009, Beauchamp was arrested after being caught drink driving in Cuttleslowe, he was three times over the alcohol limit.

In mitigation, Beauchamp told the court his life had started to fall apart after football. He was on anti-depressants and drinking heavily. Ingloriously, the final straw was a fall out over an MFI kitchen.

For a while gambling had replaced the buzz football as his career, Beauchamp claimed he earned £200k a year. But he couldn’t sustain it and was now unemployed and disabled from his toe injury. There also were pressures at home as his daughter had an untreatable eye condition. He was disqualified from driving for two years and given a six-month community order.

Six months later, Beauchamp gave an interview to the Oxford Mail in which he admitted that he had felt suicidal.

“I was getting up in the morning, going to the pub and drinking all day, every day, I was taking every sort of tablet you could imagine.”

The conviction saved him, refocussed his life; after seeing a therapist, he began to emerge from the tunnel. 

In the intervening years, Beauchamp’s life seems to have settled. When Firoz Kassam finally sold Oxford in 2006, it helped heal a rift between the club and one of its greatest players. In 2011, Beauchamp finally got the testimonial he deserved joining Dave Langan and a host of old favourites. He became a frequent visitor to The Kassam as guest of honour as he settled into life as an ex-legend and a normal person. In 2019, manager Karl Robinson invited him to train with current first team squad in order to illustrate the impact the club, and its players, has on its fans; Beauchamp was the embodiment of the club.

In so many ways Beauchamp was everything you wanted from a player; homegrown, a genuine fan and prodigiously talented. He was belligerent and headstrong, sometimes to his detriment, but he was also fragile and vulnerable. He remains the butt of many jokes about 90s football, but for those who stood on the London Road, Osler Road or Beech Road and watched a local boy mesmerise and terrify defences he will always be one of the greats. 

Long read: The longest year… Oxford United in 2000/01

The longest year… Oxford United in 2000/01

Prologue

Where to begin? What about Matt Murphy’s come-to-bed eyes? It’s about 3.40pm on 25 November 2000 and Oxford United’s go-to scapegoat Matt Murphy, is suggestively wrapped around a goalpost he grabbed to stop him careering into the London Road. He’s just rounded the Notts County ‘keeper and tapped home to make it 2-0 in front of a shocked home support. It’s not even half-time, we’re winning, and comfortably. I’m standing in the London Road, this is it, after months of trauma, months of misery, we’ve turned the corner. It’s all coming together.

Murphy looks up and his eyes meet mine, did he just raise his eyebrows suggestively? Like he’s enticing me into his footballing boudoir? It is a moment of grand hubris on his part, we’re bottom of the table with two wins and two draws all season; eight points from a possible 57; and suddenly Murphy is acting like he’s personally got it all under control. But, I’m ready to follow this lothario wherever he wants to take me. 

And yet an hour later, I’m heading home sans Murphy and we’ve lost 3-2.

But, let’s go back and set the scene; it’s the start of a new millennium. Oxford United, with the feint echoes of winning the Milk Cup and playing in the top-flight still ringing in their ears, are reeling from the death of its wealthy benefactor Robert Maxwell in 1991. In 1997 they’re plunged into even greater peril. Two years prior the club’s new, well-intentioned, owner Robin Herd achieved what a generation of owners before him couldn’t. He secures planning permission for a new stadium. When the investment dries up the contractors walk off the site and the club are faced with losses amounting to £12,000 a week on top of a £13m debt and the maintenance of a rusting carcass of a stadium in Minchery Farm on the edge of Oxford. 

In April 1999, mysterious hotelier Firoz Kassam buys the club and all its debt. Kassam appears quiet and unassuming and is paraded around The Manor as the saviour with an Oxford scarf around his neck. A successful man in every sense, he still looks uncomfortable, football is clearly not his setting. Kassam is one of the richest people of Asian descent in the country and a regular in the Time 100 rich list. He has the backing of Oxford’s fan groups, it seems the club will not only survive, it’s ready to thrive.

In 2000 Denis Smith returns to the club he steered to promotion four years earlier. While Kassam battles all-comers to get the construction work re-started, the blight on the team becomes a vice-like grip around the club’s throat. At the end of the 1999/00 season they narrowly avoid relegation to the 4th tier for the first time since 1964. The season is hideous and its end comes as a blessed relief. The spring sun offers little respite from the battle ahead; to stay in the division, to find a new home and stay in existence. This is the story of what comes next. Strap in, it’s going to get very dark, very quickly.

It’s 4th May 2000.

May 2000

With the final embers of a tortuous season still glowing, over 6,000 fans arrive at The Manor for Mike Ford’s testimonial. Goals from Chris Hackett, Derek Lilley and Jim Magilton give Oxford a 3-2 win over a young Manchester United team. It’s a rare moment of light where there is otherwise a darkening mood. The return of players like Matt Elliot and Phil Gilchrist feel like the ghosts of the club’s past coming back to haunt us. Ford later announces that the game is his last as a professional footballer.

The current squad is a ramshackle assemblage of panic buys, bargain bucket nomads and fading stars from the mid-nineties. Nine are out of contract including the iconic Joey Beauchamp and Canadian international defender Mark Watson. Watson’s contract is particularly complicated; Canada’s lengthy 2002 World Cup qualifying programme means he could miss a big proportion of the season. The club, hardly known for their largesse, aren’t keen on investing in a player who won’t be there. 

Former Chelsea midfielder Eddie Newton, who helped steady the listing ship in the latter stages of last season opts to head for China to see out his career. Or at least that’s what’s reported, he doesn’t seem to have ever made it, reappearing briefly at Barnet before retiring. Meanwhile giant Swedish goalkeeper, and fan favourite ‘porn star’ Pal Lundin is released. Also shown the door is Nigel Jemson after a dismal second spell with the club in which he played thirteen games without scoring. 

A week later, groundsman Mick Moore tears his ligaments in a freak accident when defender Phil Whelan yanks his leg awkwardly in a taxi on their way to the PFA Awards Dinner in London. The incident, which is described as ‘high-jinks’ puts Moore on crutches just as his busy summer preparing the pitch for next season gets underway. 

There’s some good news as the club receives special dispensation to use The Manor for another season. Had their licence not been renewed they would have only been permitted to use The Manor’s 2,800 seats and not its crumbling terrace. That would have made it unusable for the upcoming campaign, so the news is a big relief to Firoz Kassam, who is racing to complete the new stadium before the authorities grow tired of the club’s incompetence.

Despite avoiding relegation by the skin of their teeth, and to the dismay of many fans, Denis Smith, fresh from his own 1-year contract extension, offers new deals to the glacially slow defensive pairing Phil Whelan and Steve Davis. Goalkeeper and fan favourite Richard Knight, who has been released by Derby, is offered a contract after completing an impressive loan spell. Off the pitch legendary midfielder ‘mad dog’ Mickey Lewis is confirmed as Smith’s number two.

June 2000

With contracts still outstanding, Smith begins the process of rebuilding his beleaguered squad. The work appears to get off to a flier; Richard Knight accepts his offer and Smith announces the imminent arrival of Darren Byfield, a young striker from Aston Villa with a reputation for pace and most importantly, goals.

Meanwhile in Florida, striker Derek Lilley, on holiday with his family, is held up at gunpoint. The gunman and an accomplice burst into the family’s apartment one evening. The family are forced into the toilet and the gunman, appearing to panic, puts his weapon to the head of Lilley’s five-year-old son. Money, about $15-$20, is, thankfully, all they lose and the family returns to England straight after. Denis Smith assures fans that the ordeal won’t affect Lilley who has been subject to transfer speculation due to his commute from Yorkshire. “You can get over anything in life,” Smith said dismissively. “It was a nasty experience, but with something like that you just think how unlucky you were that it should happen to you.” He couldn’t be more wrong as Lilley’s daughter suffers night terrors and his wife grows homesick. While he stays at the club, his mind is elsewhere.

Bizarrely, to those who only ever saw Steve Davis as a last resort for Denis Smith, the defender has written to the club formerly turning down their contract offer. Even the players we don’t want to play for us don’t want to play for us. Then, at the eleventh hour, the player we most definitely do want to welcome, Darren Byfield, opts to join Walsall. It’s a major blow for Smith who desperately needs to bring goals into the squad.

There’s better news from Joey Beauchamp, who had been subject to speculation linking him to Reading. Despite the opportunity to move to a club with stability and ambition, it looks like the winger may stay at The Manor after all. Days later, there’s another blow as club captain Les Robinson leaves after signing a two-year deal as player-coach at Mansfield Town. After 453 games and 10 years of impeccable service, Robinson’s departure leaves a gaping hole that’s going to be hard to fill.

And then another turnaround; it’s announced that Joey Beauchamp may be leaving after all; he’s in two minds about whether to join Reading or stay with the club. Money isn’t the issue with Reading offering £1000 per week more, but Beauchamp’s previous experiences at West Ham and Swindon make him reluctant to take the step. As if one transfer saga isn’t enough; the protracted contract talks of Mark Watson also look set to drag on. The club are wrestling to reconcile Watson’s commitment to his national team and the need for him to be available to play league football. There’s more World Cup woe as hapless striker Steve Anthrobus is in the frame to take part in Barbados’ campaign to make it to Japan and Korea.

Elsewhere, Firoz Kassam has won another case in his battle to get work started on the new stadium; a covenant preventing alcohol sales in a half mile radius around the nearby Blackbird pub is removed by the high court. It’s a small victory, as there remains a judicial review into the permission to allow a cinema on the Minchery Farm site.  

The Beauchamp deal goes on ice as he heads off on holiday with Jamie Cook to think about it. Denis Smith, who has been linked with the vacant job at Gillingham, threatens to withdraw the offer, releasing funds for other players. Meanwhile, youngsters Rob Folland and Jamie Cook turn down their contract offers.

Phil Whelan, fresh from putting groundsman Mick Moore in hospital, signs for Southend United after turning down his contract offer. With Les Robinson leaving, and Mark Watson and Steve Davis both undecided about their futures, the Oxford backline, brittle at the best of times, looks decimated. Chartlon Athletic also confirm an interest in left-back Paul Powell. The news can’t be helping Denis Smith’s mood as he recovers from back surgery.

It’s not just on the field that things are falling apart; off it, physio John Clinkard leaves the club after 12 years to join Wimbledon, he’s replaced by Neil Sullivan.

Things start looking up towards the end of June as Denis Smith finally makes his first signing of the summer bringing in John Robertson from Ayr United. This is quickly followed with the news Joey Beauchamp, back from holiday, is due to sign. Mark Watson is still a maybe. The month closes with the signing of Ian McGuckin from Fulham and Manny Omoyimni from West Ham. 

Omoyimni is a particularly interesting character; in 1999 he was on loan from West Ham at Gillingham, playing for them in the League Cup. On returning to Upton Park, he features as a substitute for West Ham against Aston Villa in their quarter-final tie. It’s a breach of the competition’s rules which results in their exclusion from the competition.

July 2000

At the start of July, South African goalkeeper Andre Arendse triggers a clause in his contract allowing him to leave the club. With Richard Knight signed up, Arendse’s prospects for the season have become limited and he also has to consider his World Cup prospects. His time at the club has been uncomfortable, seemingly too lightweight for a lower league dogfight in a failing team. 

In yet another twist, Mark Watson goes missing in Canada. The Oxford Mail eventually track him down and find out that the club have been negotiating with the wrong agent. Watson claims that the agent Denis Smith has been talking to barely talks to the player and that he should, in fact be talking with his girlfriend. Clearly someone is lying. Back home, it looks like the manager is giving up and moving on, inviting Welsh Under 21 defender Lee Jarman to join the squad at their south coast pre-season camp.

Firoz Kassam continues to make progress on the new stadium as an objection by developers, Pentith, who disagree with the plan to build a cinema at the stadium, is withdrawn. It’s a major obstacle removed from the process. And then, another blow. Morrells raise an objection to the removal of the covenant preventing the sale of alcohol around the Blackbird pub. The objection throws the viability of the new stadium back into doubt. FOUL – Fighting for Oxford United’s Life – organise a boycott of Morrells pubs.

Kassam’s hotel business is exposed by The Observer, The London Park Hotel is described as a hostel from hell for refugees rife with gang violence and crime. The continental breakfast is to die for.

With the first pre-season game on the horizon, Steve Anthrobus heads out to Barbados for a World Cup qualifier against Guatemala. Anthrobus’ first season with the club saw him score just two goals; the first of which was on his debut on the opening day of the season. It’s been seven months since he found the net making him an unlikely candidate for a World Cup campaign. For Denis Smith, securing his squad must feel like nailing jelly to the wall, he signs Lee Jarman on a monthly contract after missing out on other targets while the Mark Watson deal remains up in the air. Still. 

As the club announce a new sponsorship deal with internet agency Domino, replacing long standing shirt sponsor Unipart, Steve Anthrobus unexpectantly arrives back from Barbados. It turns out that due to administrative errors surrounding his citizenship, he’s not eligible to play for the national team after all. He just had to travel 4,000 miles to find out. It’s been that kind of summer.

Pre-season steps up with the club’s first major friendly against Birmingham City. Denis Smith claims the 3-0 defeat in the Bill Halsey Memorial Trophy is ‘brilliant’ as it showed how much work there was still to do before the start of the season. Man of the Match is Richard Knight who makes six crucial saves to keep the score down. 

There’s better news off the field, as the appeal regarding the drinks covenant is rejected and Pentith’s objection to the cinema dropped. A dispute with Thames Water is still live, but Firoz Kassam claims construction could re-start as early as September. 

Ahead of a daunting friendly against a strong Chelsea team, Denis Smith gives another ultimatum to Mark Watson. He now has until the end of the week to sign, but with all communication going through his agent, prospects seem dim. Smith’s patience finally runs dry following the 5-1 defeat. He laments the schoolboy defensive errors and acknowledges that, for the second thrashing in a row, the score was ‘kept down’. Anders Jacobsen, a defender on trial from Stoke, says that he remains unconvinced that the result is a one-off – it’s not, it’s a two-off, but we know what he means. His concerns reduce the prospect of him signing permanently. 

With July coming to an end, and the season less than two weeks away, the deadline for Mark Watson to sign passes with an eerie silence.

August 2000

With the club preparing its final descent towards the new season, there’s a series of twists characterising the whole summer. First, Steve Davis, who formally turned down a contract in June, returns to plays in a 1-1 draw with Hereford. Afterwards, to the bafflement of all, he announces that he’s agreed a 1-year deal for next season. Then, as the deadline for his signing passes, Mark Watson decides to break his silence, gushingly calling on Denis Smith to sign him up. Then, the Steve Davis deal falls through and Smith announces the arrival of Jon Richardson from Exeter City seemingly bringing the whole debacle to a close.

It takes the number of new signings to seven with Richard Knight, striker Manny Onoyimni, and defenders Ian McGuckin, John Robertson and Lee Jarman, who is on a monthly contract. In goal for the Hereford friendly is Jimmy Glass, who is most famous for scoring a last-minute goal for Carlisle United in 1999 to keep them in Football League. Denis Smith seems keen to bring him in as cover for Richard Knight.

Two days before the season starts, the squad finally gathers for its team photo; their shirts, featuring the Domino logo are made by New Balance and are a darker yellow with a strange luminescent quality. Under the lights it seems to create the illusion of turning the shirt green. 

Denis Smith is bullish on the eve of the season opener against Peterborough at The Manor. The bookies have the club favourites to go down, but Smith thinks they may surprise some people. He’s right, but perhaps not in the way he meant. He backs Manny Omoyimni to fire the club forward, setting him a target of 20 goals for the season. The picture changes 24 hours later as Oxford fall to a 1-0 home defeat. Denis Smith seems confused about his best team and formation with Lee Jarman being sacrificed in a reshuffle mid-game. 

Days later the worsening mood grows darker still when full-back Ross Weatherstone is convicted of racially assaulting a taxi driver during a night out with friends. He receives a fine for his part in the incident. The club’s ponderous response to the issue angers both fans and the local press.

Just two days after that, it’s announced that former manager, Maurice Evans has died of a heart attack. A universally liked and unassuming character, Evans managed the club to Milk Cup success, taking over from Jim Smith in 1985. The club would go into mourning, if it wasn’t so self-absorbed in its own failure. A dismal week concludes with a 3-0 defeat to Port Vale in the second game of the season. 

The following week, we play Wolves at Molineux in the League Cup allowing Dean Whitehead to make his first start for the club. Wolves are in the second tier but suffering from injuries. If the season so far hasn’t been bizarre enough, a Matt Murphy goal gives us a 1-0 first-leg win and a genuine chance of getting through to the next round.

Four days later we lose our third league game of the season 1-0 to Brentford. Off the field the club suspend Ross Weatherstone for his conviction for racially aggravated assault, but with a ten-day gap between the decision and the club’s action, the damage is already done. The month concludes with our fourth consecutive league defeat, at Walsall we take the lead through Joey Beauchamp, then concede twice, Beauchamp equalises before the hosts grab the winner eight minutes from time. The goals, at least, represent our first of the season. 

September 2000

The Walsall game has a further casualty when Paul Powell damages knee ligaments, putting him out of the game for several months. On form, Powell represents the club’s brightest prospect with Premier League teams taking an interest in his progress. The loss is another bitter blow.

Still, two days later, a 1-1 draw at home to Cambridge sees us take our first point of the season. Denis Smith isn’t there to see it because he’s in hospital with a blood infection (obviously). The point lifts the club off the bottom of the table setting things up nicely for the second leg of the League Cup tie against Wolves…

… to whom Oxford crash out, despite taking the lead through Jon Richardson, going 2-0 up in the tie and Wolves have Joleon Lescott sent off, the visitors turn the tie on its head with two quick goals and a winner that sends Oxford out. It’s the hope that kills you.

Still, it’s not all bad news as the council give the go-ahead for a leisure complex at Minchery Farm, meaning the stadium construction can get underway, at last. Probably. A local farmer, Les Wells claims he owns some of the land and may still call for a judicial review into the decision.

The season is the first to feature Oxford’s three most local rivals – Swindon, Reading and Wycombe – so coupled with the bigger picture, there are local bragging rights to win. Or lose. First up is Wycombe Wanderers in a Friday night game live on TV. Richard Knight is injured in the first-half meaning a debut for Canadian ‘keeper Hubert Busby Jnr. The substitution has a lengthy delay when it turns out that Busby doesn’t have a goalkeeper’s shirt and has to quickly find a club training top to play in. Afterwards, Oxford’s kitman Ken Ridley claims he hadn’t forgotten the shirt, he just didn’t have any in stock. Wycombe win 3-1. Busby, playing his one and only game in England, saves a last-minute penalty, which has to be retaken. They score. 

There’s a hitch with the planning permission on the new stadium because, well, of course there is. With Firoz Kassam determined to get building started, it’s now suggested that approval needs to go to full council. It helps that nobody seems very sure on this point.

Oxford’s fifth defeat in six league games, a 4-0 thrashing by Stoke, results in a major re-think for Denis Smith. It’s only September and he’s already talking about a clear out; especially up front where it’s been 18 hours since a striker scored for the club.

And then, a win! A goal ten minutes from time from substitute Jamie Cook against Bury sees Oxford take its first three points of the season. Even a missed Joey Beauchamp penalty doesn’t bring the mood down. Denis Smith still wants to sort out his striking problem. A £200,000 bid for Torquay’s Tony Bedeau falls through, so Smith turns to a loan deal for Manchester City’s Leon Mike.

It’s back to normal after the Bury win as Mike makes a demoralising debut in the 5-0 thrashing at Millwall. The team have now conceded 18 goals in just 5 away games. Denis Smith blames a lack of leaders, having previously blamed a lack of fire power.

Off the field, two club stalwarts leave the club, commercial manager Trevor Baxter and communications manager David Crabtree are pursuing new opportunities. A clue as to the reasons behind Baxter’s decision may be in the news that the club have announced that the team’s new, vaguely green, replica shirts are expected to be in stock before the end of the month – 6 weeks into the season. The month concludes with a 0-1 home defeat to Bristol City. Youth team coach, Mike Ford comes out of retirement for his final professional game.

October 2000

The aftermath of the Bristol defeat is significant, fans turn on Denis Smith, calling for his head. The following Monday, the club announce that he’s standing down but will stay on as an advisor to help appoint his successor. First to throw their hat in the ring is former Oxford centre-back who played for England in the 1990 World Cup, Mark Wright. Wright, manager at Southport, is emerging as one of the most promising managers in the Conference.

Instead, Mike Ford is given the role in a caretaker capacity, dauntingly his first game is the local derby against Swindon at the County Ground. Fans are pessimistic with only 1500 buying tickets for the game some 25% down on normal figures.

The day before the game a row erupts when it’s revealed that Swindon are offering cheaper tickets to their fans, a breach of the rules. Oxford report Swindon to the Football League as a result. Ford unveils Guy Whittingham, a veteran striker on loan from Portsmouth.  

Oxford create the better chances playing a more direct game. Swindon keeper Bart Griemink saves from a Matt Murphy point-blank header before Lee Jarman hits the post. 

Then, inevitably, Alan Reeves sweeps it home from six yards before Whittingham connects with a Sam Ricketts’ pass for the equaliser.

Swindon’s substitutes combine to take the winner, Giuliano Grazioli, who four years earlier had put into his own net to spark Oxford to promotion against Peterborough, tucks away Sol Davis’s low cross.

Whittingham’s is the first Oxford goal by a recognised striker for five months, however, things are moving quickly back at Portsmouth; manager Tony Pulis is sacked and replaced by Steve Claridge whose first act is to recall Whittingham. He leaves with one goal from one game and a legacy which will last longer than many other Oxford players in the current squad. The club has to seek special dispensation from the Football League to replace Whittingham with another loan player.

Two further names are thrown into the ring as a replacement for Denis Smith; Steve Coppell and Ian Atkins. Meanwhile two senior professionals; Matt Murphy and club captain Peter Fear ask to be put on the transfer list, the latter, looking overweight and disinterested, can’t get into the team. The club secedes to both requests.

Cheltenham manager Steve Cotterill turns down the opportunity to take over the Oxford hotseat after meeting with Firoz Kassam. Following a farcical 4-3 defeat to Wrexham, Denis Smith, who appears to be both an ex-manager and manager simultaneously, signs 38-year-old ex-Arsenal defender Andy Linighan to try and shore up the leaky defence which has shipped 27 goals in 12 games. The impact appears immediate as a man of the match performance from Richard Knight results in a 0-0 draw with Luton Town picking up our fifth point of the season. Every silver lining has a cloud as the game is marred by Paul Tait breaking his leg.

Any sense that the point offers a fragile platform on which to build a recovery is blown out of the water the next day as Firoz Kassam goes on the offensive. Kassam, who has been largely silent when it comes to team matters, is ostensibly there to trailer a double announcement; the first of which is expected to be the restart of building work at the stadium. However, the club’s dismal start to the season cannot be ignored. Kassam explodes.

His particular gripe is the supposed lack of investment in the team, he claims to be £5m out of pocket and has a clear message for the media and fans; “So all I can say to the media and to a few supporters who make unnecessary threats to me and my family is: if you don’t like it, piss off, go away.” The rift is never fully healed.

The next day, as if nothing has happened, in the strangely homely surrounds of the ancient Priory Pub next to the new stadium, Kassam announces Joe Kinnear as his new director of football with David Kemp coming in as manager. It’s quite a coup; Kinnear is a manager with Premier League experience. Kassam also announces Birse as the construction partner on the new stadium.

The impact is, well, minimal. Kinnear and Kemp’s first game is our seventh straight away defeat, 3-1 to Rotherham. Derek Lilley contrives to have a goal chalked off for offside after he converts a shot that was already going in from Jamie Cook. The loss is followed by a 2-0 defeat to Wigan.  It’s not even Christmas and we’re already looking for a miracle to survive.

The following week we head to Reading. Despite the mocking by Oxford fans about their toy town stadium and plastic fans, the Madjeski Stadium is in such stark contrast to the collapsing Manor Ground it illustrates the growing chasm between the two clubs. The game is a classic. As the rain lashes down, Oxford come from a goal down to lead 2-1, Reading equalise before John Richardson makes it 3-2. Just as it looks like an unexpected three points is on the cards, a late Tony Rougier double in the last 12 minutes turns the game around. Another 3-4 defeat. It’s made all the worse as the win sends Reading to the top of the table.

November 2000

A 1-0 defeat to Bristol Rovers sets David Kemp on a search for new blood, he signs Keith Brown from Barnsley and Keith Andrews from Wolves both on loan along with Northern Ireland international striker Phil Gray from Burnley. The impact is immediate as the new look team head to Swansea and come away with a 2-1 win. Andrews stands out, scoring the winner and running the midfield. The result was the first win in nine, and just the second league victory of the season. It wins the club Performance of the Week by Sky.

Kemp, never one to play down his contribution, declares his team are on the up; but Joe Kinnear is not resting on his laurels, tracking Jamaican international Onandi Lowe and sacking Mickey Lewis, who has become surplus to requirements since Kemp and his assistant Alan McLeary took charge.

It doesn’t dampen the mood as we secure a 1-0 FA Cup win over non-league Macclesfield, the game is marred by trouble in the Oxford end when we concede a penalty two minutes from time. Richard Knight’s save preserves the lead and sends Oxford into the second round.

Suddenly, there seems to be stability at the club which Kinnear wants to leverage with a cash bid for Birmingham’s Steve Robinson. I mean, obviously he doesn’t sign, but remember the name. As if to illustrate the positivity, Oxford race to a 2-0 first half lead against Notts County with two goals from Matt Murphy. Suddenly the fight-back is truly on. Then, it all falls apart again. Three second half goals and we collapse to yet another defeat. All confidence seeps away. 

Despite the big money bids, Kinnear and Kemp struggle to bring anyone in, as if to illustrate the frustration both Lee Jarman and Jimmy Glass, who have been on weekly contracts, are signed until the end of the season. 

December 2000

David Kemp splashes out £35,000 for Forest Green Rovers defender Wayne Hatswell. Hatswell has already gained notoriety lashing in an own goal for Morecambe in the FA Cup last year. The goal, in which Hatswell under no pressure, three yards out, manages to find the top corner of his own goal, is shown repeatedly on Match of the Day. He sounds like our kind of player.

With Hatswell, Manny Omoyimni and Jimmy Glass, the club are building quite a collection of players people will reminisce about on podcasts in years to come.

Another 3-2 defeat, this time to Oldham is followed by a 4-1 Auto Windscreen Shield defeat to Brentford. Although the result is largely meaningless, Kemp apologises for the performance, it’s the thirteenth time the team have conceded three or more goals.

An old wound is opened in December when Ross Weatherstone announces that he doesn’t plan to appeal his conviction for racially aggravated assault. He continues to insist that he isn’t a racist and that not appealing is down to the club’s suggestion that everyone needs to put the issue behind them. 

There’s another 3-2 defeat, this time to non-league Chester in the FA Cup, David Kemp turns his ire on shell-shocked ‘keeper Richard Knight. Knight has conceded a bucketload of goals but is still a fan favourite and contender for player of the year due to his performances. Knight’s error in the Cup triggers Kemp to bring in Neil Cutler on loan from Aston Villa. The endless merry-go-round of players continues as Derek Lilley leaves to return to Scotland; he’s had a torrid time and failed to settle down south.

Cutler is far from popular with the London Road faithful, who feel Knight has been scapegoated. His debut, however, sees a 3-1 win over Northampton Town, Steve Anthrobus scores for the first time in the league in nearly a year. We’re in a parallel universe. Star of the show is 17-year-old Chris Hackett, who Joe Kinnear offers a five-year contract to days later. Youngsters Jamie Brooks and Simon King are also offered long term deals.

Days before Christmas it’s revealed that The Ackland Hospital has re-submitted planning permission to relocate to the Manor site once Oxford leave for Minchery Farm. The stumbling block is traffic, but the plan would provide essential finance to the club.

A 2-3 defeat to Colchester before Christmas is followed by a dismal 1-2 Boxing Day defeat to Bournemouth with two goals from teenage superkid, Jermaine Defoe, who is on loan from West Ham. The goals are in a sequence of ten consecutive games, a post-war record. After a fleeting flicker of hope, Oxford head into 2001 needing a miracle if it is to salvage anything from the season.

January 2001

The New Year brings no rest bite as Oxford collapse to a 3-0 defeat to Brentford. David Kemp thinks the answer is in the transfer market. When it comes it’s pretty remarkable. Brentford’s Andy Scott, one of the division’s top goalscorers, teammate Rob Quinn and Kevin Austin – a loanee from Barnsley at Brentford all sign in a deal worth £250,000. Also arriving from Swansea City is defender Garry Monk.

With Austin’s signature held up, Quinn, Scott and Monk all make their debuts and Andy Linighan is sacrificed for the 2-1 win over Walsall. Days later, Austin’s move collapses due after he fails a medical. A 1-0 defeat to Colchester precedes a 4-2 defeat to Peterborough – it’s the 16th time Oxford have conceded three or more goals. David Kemp resorts to tortured analogies to explain the latest failure: “We’re like an old car. You think you’ve got one part mended and then the bumper falls off.” he says before adding “We’re like a bucket with a hole in it, you patch it up and then another hole appears.” Yes David, we get it.

Elsewhere, St Andrew’s First School are the latest people to take an interest in moving to the Manor Ground site next year.

February 2001

101 days after arriving at the club, Joe Kinnear announces that he’s leaving the club to spend more time with his family. It comes as something of a surprise when two days later he’s unveiled as Luton Town’s new Director of Football. Rumours circulate that the deal was struck before Christmas.

A 0-2 defeat to Wycombe prompts David Kemp, who is already on the ropes with the fans, into action. He attempts to alleviate the pressure by diving into the transfer market again to find the latest solution to the club’s endless woes. Northern Ireland international Darren Patterson is signed after completing a short-term contract with York City. While the door is open, the Weatherstone brothers – Simon and Ross are shown the exit as they head off to Boston. There’s no immediate impact as Chris Hackett is sent off after 20 minutes in the game against Bury as the team collapse to a 1-3 defeat, number 25 of the season.

Patterson, who is made club captain, puts in a man-of-the match performance three days later scoring in a 1-1 draw with Stoke. One beneficiary of the Kemp-era is Matt Murphy, who has cemented a place in the team since asking for a transfer, now he’s even talking about getting a new contract.

The month concludes with a routine 0-2 defeat to Millwall, after which Neil Cutler is sent back to Aston Villa. Although not popular with the fans, David Kemp is angry at the decision which appears to have been made by Firoz Kassam.

March 2001

March sees the relegation doomsday clock on countdown. The only bit of light that seems to be shining; progress on the stadium, is stunted when Les Wells wins the right to a judicial review into the decision to allow a leisure complex on what he claims to be his right of way. Wells isn’t looking to kill the project, but instead is looking for compensation of around £20,000. Firoz Kassam is taking a different tone. He says the issue threatens the whole project. Once again, the club’s future is in the balance.

Richard Knight makes a triumphant return to the first team with a clean sheet in the 0-0 draw at Bristol City, but it’s business as usual three days later as we go down 3-5 to Wrexham. 

The final visit of Swindon Town doesn’t sell out with just over 7,000 attending. Dean Whitehead is sent off before half-time after kicking Steve Robinson, a transfer target for David Kemp earlier in the season. Matt Murphy follows him with 25 minutes left for two bookable offences. The home fans hurl coins and bottles at Steve Mildenhall in the Swindon goal forcing the referee to take the players off with 12 minutes to play. By this point we’re already a goal down to a Robinson (yes him) first-half volley, he fires another one in with a minute to go. 

“This is Oxford United and the way things are going you get a large kick in the balls as opposed to a little tap,” says analogy magnet David Kemp “The thing to do is not sulk about it but just hope that the tide turns and surely it will.”

It won’t. 

23 points adrift from safety, with the future of their new stadium in the balance, Firoz Kassam has taken decisive action to do nothing about the club’s parlous state until the outcome of the judicial review forced by Les Wells. 

The double threat – the right of way and the judicial review into the planning decision – could be resolved if Kassam is prepared to compensate Wells. With the transfer deadline approaching, Kassam confirms that nobody will be signed as the club may not exist in a week’s time, despite having no cover for Richard Knight.

With Firoz Kassam ratcheting up the pressure on the council and Les Wells, Wells takes to the Oxford United Forum ThisIsUnited to make his views clear. Kassam responds by revealing that The Manor has been sold, though to whom remains a mystery. The sale will render the club homeless if the stadium isn’t complete. This is brinkmanship of the highest order.

Four days later, Les Wells demands £1m for his land, which Firoz Kassam looks set to pay. If legal costs can be agreed, the crisis may be averted. 

Ironically, as the club teeters on the brink of oblivion, the team hit its best form of the season; first comes the most extraordinary result of year as the team contrive to beat league leaders Rotherham 4-3 at the Manor.

Man of the Match was Manny Omoyimni scoring twice, his first of the twenty Denis Smith had predicted for him, plus having another one ruled out for offside and an assist.

Omoyimni’s cross allowed Rob Qunn to score after six minutes, Mark Robbins on 24 minutes before he fired in a 25 yard drive three minutes later. The third came on the hour with Andy Scott heading the fourth seven minutes later. Two later Rotherham goals made it an uncomfortable finish, but the three points were secured.

That David Kemp said: “I hope the penny has dropped for him.” Omoyimni scores once more all season.

The game preceded a council meeting on Tuesday whether to give the go-ahead on the stadium. Chairman Firoz Kassam, continues to ratchet up the pressure saying: “If the conditions are not lifted I will no longer support the club and will stop paying the contractors. It is in the hands of the council.”

The restrictions are lifted and it appears, finally, it’s all steam ahead.

Oxford then lose to Cambridge, but only by a last minute goal from Paul Wanless. The month concludes with a 1-0 win over Northampton. 

The Northampton game isn’t without its own dose of farce; the team coach fails to turn up meaning the players have to make their way to Sixfields, like wacky races, in a fleet of cars. The coach company take the blame saying “I do apologise to the club. It was a new driver who had problems because the toilet on the coach wasn’t properly drained and then the fuses kept blowing.” which sums the whole season up.

April 2001

A Phil Gray goal after 8 seconds doesn’t prevent Oxford from falling to yet another 4-3 defeat to Bournemouth. It is the fourth 4-3 of the season, and the 13th game with five goals or more. We are nothing if not entertaining. 

The defeat sets up the inevitable; we are now just one defeat from relegation. The night before our home game against Oldham, the new stadium is struck by an arson attack. The damage, which is estimated to be worth around £60,000, appears to have been done by kids. 

The following day, a last-minute goal condemns Oxford to a humiliating relegation. They are the first team in the country to do it.

With the misery over, Oxford pick up a point at Luton before narrowly losing 3-2 to Wigan. David Kemp is bullish about the future calling for Firoz Kassam to invest in the team. Days later, the team meekly surrenders 2-0 to Reading. It is the club’s sixth defeat in six derby games. And if you want to argue about whether to include Wycombe as a derby or not, you really haven’t been paying attention, we simply no longer care. Fans continue to call for David Kemp’s head, who hits back saying that fans need a reality check.

With relegation confirmed, thoughts turn to damage limitation, with four games left and 90 goals conceded, the club set themselves a goal of avoiding conceding 100 goals before the end of the season. I mean, it feels like Fergie in his pomp doesn’t it? Fittingly, even that target looks beyond them when they concede six in a 6-2 defeat to Bristol Rovers. Richard Knight is sent off for a professional foul, only the leniency of the referee prevents substitute keeper Phil Wilson – who saves a penalty before watching the rebound go in – going after he commits a similar foul ten minutes later. Had Wilson gone, it would have left the club without a ‘keeper for the last games of the season.

It’s some great irony that David Kemp is fired after a 3-1 win over Swansea. The result turns out to be the final win at The Manor, which is 2,500 short of capacity for the farewell game against Port Vale. Mike Ford takes over as caretaker manager fielding a young team of local kids. 

May 2001

The Port Vale game features fireworks and a speech from Firoz Kassam who promises to build ‘a team to be proud of’. It’s a promise that would haunt him in years to come. Andy Scott slots home the final Oxford goal in the first half and then, somewhat fittingly, Port Vale equalise in the last minute.

The final game of the season, away to Notts County, features an inexperienced team with eight home-grown players. Against the odds, a Rob Folland goal gives Oxford the lead, but County hit back as Oxford concede their 99th and 100th goal. 

Oxford United end the season bottom of the table, 10 points behind second bottom, 35 points from safety. They’ve won seven games, drawn six and lost 33. They’ve scored 53 goals and conceded 100. They have had three managers and played forty-one players including five goalkeepers.

On the morning of the final game, Firoz Kassam finally reveals who bought The Manor. It’s Firoz Kassam. One of his companies – Firoka – buy the ground for £6m from the club, which is set to be bought by The Ackland Hospital who are planning a £25m development. Although Kassam claims there are no other buyers, the purchase deprives the club of the full market value of their own ground.

Post season

The clearout of the squad begins almost immediately; Peter Fear and Steve Anthrobus are both released with Lee Jarman and Jon Shepheard also likely to leave. John Robertson also heads back to Scotland because his wife is homesick.

Mark Wright is announced as the club’s new permanent manager. Wright has built a reputation as a bright young manager after a stellar playing career. But, if the end of the season is expected the herald a new dawn, the misery continues to when the Voice of the London Road Andrew Knapton dies suddenly.  

This casts another shadow over the final game at The Manor, a charity re-run of the Milk Cup Final organised by Alan Judge. Many Oxford players from that game return, though not Malcolm Shotton, Ray Houghton or John Aldridge.

Mark Wright starts re-building his squad, trying to sign younger players such as Dean Whitehead and Jamie Brooks. Wright sacks Denis Smith, the man who recommended him for the job. 

Domino, who step down as the club’s shirt sponsor, have no regrets as the club announces a new shirt for next season. The kit, voted by the fans, is brighter and made by TFG and will be sponsored by local company Buildbase. Completing the exorcism of the last 12 months, the club hold an auction to sell off parts of the old Manor Ground.

Thoughts turn to the new stadium – which Firoz Kassam bashfully names after himself – as local residents worry about parking issues on matchdays. The club setting aside nearly £250,000 to support traffic management and announce a price freeze on season tickets. The announcement has the desired effect there is brisk business for renewals. 

It’s not all good news as the stadium is subject to another attack of vandalism, this time windows are smashed using catapults. 

Still, the squad re-building continues with the signing of Martin Thomas and Sam Stockley. Mark Wright’s attempt at luring Neil Ruddock and Dean Saunders fails, and the signing of John Dreyer is blocked by Firoz Kassam. One of the issues is the stockpile of defenders at the club; with two more added – Scott Guyett and Phil Bolland from Mark Wright’s former club. As a result, Ian McGuckin is shown the door to try and release more budget.

With the new season less than a month away, the club’s pre-season starts with a game against Brackley Town, Paul Tait scores in a narrow 1-0 win over Didcot. Mark Wright solves his goalkeeping difficulties with the signing of Ian McCaldon from Livingstone. He signs after Dave Beasant turns down the opportunity to see out his career with the club.

The rush is on to finish the stadium and gain its safety certificate in time for its opening game – the Bill Hasley Memorial Trophy game against Crystal Palace. Days beforehand, the club confirm that the upper section of the South Stand won’t be available for the game, but they remain confident it will go ahead. It’s that close.

The club’s staff finally take up their new position at the stadium and three days later the Palace friendly gets the go-ahead. There’s traffic chaos as the kick-off is delayed; a majority of the crowd haven’t bought tickets in advance meaning there are long queues at the ticket office. Still, despite the ground still being covered in dust and tape from the construction work, the game goes ahead. Paul Powell scores Oxford’s first ever goal at the new ground, a penalty. The 1-1 draw results in penalties, which Oxford win.Work continues throughout the week to finalise the stadium in time for the season opener against Rochdale. On 11 August 2001, after 15 psychologically exhausting months, Oxford sit on the cusp of a new dawn. The day is grey and the weather is cold, but finally it’s here. The future.

Midweek fixture: Oxford United’s finances

Oxford United have released their accounts for 2018/19. I’m no accountant so this isn’t a forensic assessment of the results, but there are some titbits which may give clues to the club’s ambitions and future.

Quite simply, football is a precarious business; the broad challenge for all clubs is to climb the divisions. That relies heavily on the resources available. On average, League 1 teams have revenues of £6m a year, at Championship level that jumps to £25m, at Premier League it climbs to £200m+. Each promotion presents a massive financial challenge.

There’s £7m in TV revenue when you get to the Championship; with the £6m of League 1 turnover there’s still a £12m shortfall. Even selling out every week would barely make a dent in that. So clubs need to generate more revenue or accept more debt. More debt effectively means betting a portion of any future Premier League riches – spending £20m-£30m now in the hope of making £200m in the future. But it’s more complicated than that, if you have ambition to make it to the Premier League, then you have to compete with the biggest Championship teams who are raking in around £60m, and if that’s not a big enough number, even those teams are going deep into debt to make the top flight.

It’s a big gamble; for every Brighton and Bournemouth who have bridged the gap, there are more Ipswich Towns and Sunderlands (and Boltons and Portsmouths and Barnsleys and Wigans).

So, why own a football club? Perhaps it’s the joy of playing real life Football Manager or maybe it’s to invest in the hope of returning a profit in the future – which only really happens when you make the Premier League. Or, you invest in order to sell on to a richer successor.

There are less noble reasons – reputation cleansing (so called sports washing) or to leverage another business venture such as a land deal. We don’t own our ground or any notable assets, so we’re quite insulated from that particular evil, something we were stung by it when Firoz Kassam sold The Manor to, well, himself.

Although our owners appear well resourced, it doesn’t seem enough for us to simply be a plaything for billionaires. If it were, we’d probably have seen some frivolous champagne signings over the last couple of years, instead the players we have signed seem to have genuine sell-on value.

So, that leaves us with two scenarios; invest for future profit or to sell on. Either way, the key is the ability to invest and for those investments to improve the value of the club.

The headlines show that we’ve been losing £80,000 a week and are £18m in debt. Clearly this isn’t a position anyone can sustain forever.

There are some positive signs – there appears to have been above average investment in players – £475k, as well as a £713k investment in fixed assets – presumably the training ground. According to The Price of Football, this is high for our level, which is hopefully a good sign.

£11m of our losses are underwritten by the club’s owners, which, presumably will only be repaid if there’s another investor with the money to clear the debt. What we don’t really know is whether the current owner’s resources are a house of cards ready to crumble or built on a pot of real money and assets. Superficially, the loans make this quite a soft debt for the club to accumulate. In addition, there are some costs which are hopefully one-offs such as the fees owed to Darryl Eales (£2.6m).

While the headlines look scary, the figures pre-date the sale of Gavin Whyte and apparently others. There’s a note which advises there’s £4.4m to be included in this year’s accounts which should see the club return to profit next year. This likely excludes Shandon Baptiste and Tariqe Fosu’s sales and doesn’t account for this season’s cup runs or increases in attendances. With the prospect of Rob Dickie and Cameron Brannagan going in the summer, which will be reflected in our 2020/21 results, we seem reasonably set up for the next couple of years. The trick is to have one or two players a year moving on for big money on a regular basis.

There has been a lot of criticism about player sales, but I’d argue the fact we are selling, rather than driving ourselves into the ground with blind ambition, is a good sign. It illustrates a balance between the ambition to move the club forward and the pragmatic need to sustain ourselves in the longer term.

No football club outside the Premier League is in a ‘good’ financial position, football needs a fundamental structural reorganisation for smaller clubs to be genuinely sustainable, but our finances suggest we’re neither spiralling out of control nor stagnating. In the modern game, that might just about be the best we can hope for.

Midweek fixtures: Away days

A few weeks ago, out of curiosity, I started looking at some stuff about our away games. I got a bit carried away and disappeared down a ridiculously deep wormhole. I mean, I only looked at the last 20 years and only in the league, I’m not insane. This is what I found.

If you were mad enough to go to every Oxford United away game in the last 20 years then you’ve travelled 57,700 miles to league games (one way, double all of this for the return journey) with another 7,300 miles in the cups (OK, I looked at the cups a bit). On average that’s 2,700 miles a year in the league with 350 miles in the cup.

In the league we’ve played 102 different opponents, AFC Wimbledon being the most frequent – 16 times.

The worst year for travel was in 2002/3 when we ate up no less than 3,400 miles, compared to 2000/01 when we just travelled just 2,221 miles, anyone around during that season will agree that it was probably the best thing about it.

Most travelled

Devon is a lovely place to go on holiday, we’ve chomped up more miles travelling to Torquay United than any other club; 2006.

  1. Torquay United 2006
  2. Rochdale 1958
  3. York City 1840
  4. Plymouth Argyle 1634
  5. Bury 1577
  6. Accrington Stanley 1528
  7. Scunthorpe United 1523
  8. Morecambe 1463
  9. Southend United 1359
  10. Carlisle United 1340

Least travelled

Our single trip to Hayes and Yeading in the league puts them at the top of the least number of accumulated league miles we’ve travelled (or bottom of the most number of miles, depending how you look at it).

  1. Hayes and Yeading 44
  2. Reading 50
  3. St Albans 55
  4. Swindon Town 92
  5. Brentford 107
  6. Lewes 111
  7. Cardiff City 118
  8. Kettering 124
  9. Ipswich Town 139 
  10. Sheffield United 143

Lowest miles per point

It has long been debated (and largely rejected) that Wycombe Wanderers is a derby, but it is the shortest distance (sorry, Swindon is 30 miles away from the Kassam, seven more than Wycombe). By some distance, Wycombe is the most efficient place to travel in terms of miles per point; we only have to travel 1.5 miles for every point gained.

  1. 1.5 Wycombe Wanderers
  2. 3.7 Cheltenham Town
  3. 4.3 AFC Wimbledon
  4. 4.7 Bristol Rovers
  5. 5.1 Swindon Town
  6. 5.6 Northampton Town
  7. 5.7 Dagenham & Redbridge
  8. 6.3 Forest Green Rovers
  9. 6.4 Burton Albion
  10. 6.8 Kidderminster Harriers

Lowest miles per point (+100 miles)

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous and fancy a game more than 100 miles away, you’d do worse than head for our bogey team Southend United. Despite some terrible results, we only need to travel 8 miles for every point we’ve won.  

  1. 8 miles per point Southend United
  2. 10.3 Notts County
  3. 11 Bury
  4. 11.7 Mansfield Town
  5. 12 Plymouth Argyle
  6. 12.3 York City
  7. 13.2 Lincoln City
  8. 14 Gillingham
  9. 14 Torquay United
  10. 14.3 Ebbsfleet United

Highest miles per point

You’d do well to avoid a trip to Barrow; just two trips north, taking one point means that it’ll cost you 251.6 miles for every point gained. Of course, lots of this is skewed by a lack of frequency. Among teams we’ve played five or more times, Fleetwood Town is the bogey team, costing a mammoth 101.9 miles for every point. 

  1. 251.6 miles per point Barrow
  2. 125.8 Sunderland
  3. 191.4 Hull City
  4. 165.4 Huddersfield Town
  5. 117.7 Cardiff City
  6. 100.8 Lewes
  7. 110.8 Yeovil Town
  8. 101.9 Fleetwood Town
  9. 94 Bournemouth
  10. 89.3 Carlisle United

All of which is very interesting, but not as interesting as hitting the road in hope and expectation, screaming yourself horse and praying for for three points.

Midweek Fixture: The top 50 players of the 2000s – Ranked

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. The 2000s was a bleak decade for Oxford United, we dropped into the bottom tier of the Football League in 2001, then just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, out of the Football League altogether.

At the back end of last year, I asked you to vote for your favourite players from that godforsaken decade. This is how the top 50 ranked.

50. Matt Robinson

A friend of mine once asked why Matt Robinson wasn’t playing in the Premier League. The bald wonder had magic in his boots, if he had a decent striker to get on the end of his crosses, or alternatively Julian Alsopp, we always threatened.

49. Alan Judge

The first of many whose ranking is probably not down to his performances in the decade in question. Alan Judge played just two games as emergency cover in 2003 and 2004 and while that had a certain something about it, his ranking is probably more down to his Milk Cup Final appearance in 1986.

Defining moment: In the decade in question, let’s go for his last game for the club 19 years after his debut, aged 44. A 4-0 defeat to Southend.

48. Eddie Anaclet

A spritely full-back from our first season in the Conference. I had him down as the player of the season that year, another poll ranked him as the worst player in the squad. A breath of fresh air in a squad of has-beens and never-wases.

47. Scott McNiven

Once Scott McNiven got his backside between a striker and the ball, there was no getting around it. It was that big. A full-back – with Matt Robinson (50) on the other side – of the Ian Atkins vintage. 

46. Andy Scott

Endlessly likeable striker bought by Firoz Kassam in a panic from Brentford in 2001. Scott had scored a bucket load in the first half of that season, but never really hit the groove for us in what was a hopelessly failing side. 

Defining moment: Scored in a Boxing Day game against Luton Town in front of a full-house (we still lost).

45. Sam Ricketts

Angular faced full-back and academy product, Ricketts was squeezed out of the club in 2002 due to competition for players. He stepped down a few levels, but worked his way back into the Football League before playing 52 times for Wales. One that got away. 

44. Andy Burgess

A mercurial talent, but when the going got tough, Burgess went missing. Scored a wonder goal in the first game of the Conference season, but spent most of the rest of the season with his sleeves over his hands like a reluctant goth playing 4th Year house football.

Defining moment: The moment of magic against Chris Wilder’s Halifax Town in our first game in Conference.

43. Chris Tardif

Perpetual understudy to Andy Woodman, Tardif was a bit of a luxury in that he was too good to sit on the bench, though that’s what he did. Watching him and Alan Hodgkinson checking out the half-time scores instead of warming up was a staple of the Kassam Stadium mid-2000s experience.

42. Mark Watson

Our collapse down the league could be plotted in the quality of our centre-backs. From Elliot and Gilchrist to Wilsterman and Whelan. Mark Watson was the last of the great stoppers. Walked out of the club in 2000, and given what happened next, understandably so.

41. Barry Quinn

Barry Quinn was one of those salt-of-the-earth kind of players. He battled against hope to keep our promotion hopes alive during the mid-2000s. 

40. Rob Duffy

Perhaps the most divisive player of this or any decade. Jim Smith brought Duffy from Portsmouth to spearhead our fight back to the Football League in 2006. Duffy immediately started to repay him in goals, many from the penalty spot. Otherwise, he didn’t seem that bothered. Nobody could decide whether he was a goal machine or a lazy sod. In the play-off against Exeter in 2007 he found himself clean through only to weakly tap the ball back to their ‘keeper. It summed him up perfectly.

Defining moment: Rolling the ball into the hands of the Exeter ‘keeper in the play-off semi-final when clean through.

39. Sam Deering

A pocket sized ball of trouble. There was much wrong with Sam Deering; his racist comments about nurses, his Ugg boots, the fact he couldn’t get the ball in the box from a corner. When he broke his leg in Chris Wilder’s first game, Wilder – who called him ‘our best player’ – used it as a way of leveraging support for his way of working. In 2010 at Wembley he picked the ball up from Rhys Day on the edge of the area exchanged passes with Alfie Potter and the rest was history.

Defining moment: Best supporting actor in the third goal at Wembley.

38. Danny Rose

An absolutely solid, if unremarkable midfielder who joined in 2007 from Manchester United where he was their ‘reserve captain’. Too much was expected of him. Returned later to play his part in our 2015/16 promotion campaign. Then ruined it all by going to Swindon.

37. Paul Wanless

Another two-spell man. Having cut his teeth at Oxford, Wanless headed off to Cambridge where he became something of a legend. Returned at the tail end of his career in 2003.

36. Nigel Jemson

Yet another two spell man and, like Alan Judge, probably not at this level because of what he did during the decade. In his pomp, Jemson spearheaded an attack which kept us in the Championship during the late 90s. His return in 2000 miserably yielded no goals from 18 appearances. 

Defining moment: Screaming in the face of a kneeling and crestfallen Paul Moody for not passing to him when clean through on goal.

35. Manny Omoyimni

Manny Omoyimni was famous before he reached Oxford, while at West Ham he featured in a League Cup game for the Hammers having previously turned out for Gillingham in an earlier round. As a result, West Ham were thrown out of the competition. Omoyimni, didn’t really do much at the Manor in another failing team, but he tried hard and around that time, that was all you could ask for.

34. Matty Taylor

Memorable though they were, I’m speculating that Matty Taylor’s two appearances in the Setanta Shield in 2008 were not the prime reason for making number 34. Slipped off the radar, made his name elsewhere; a return this season has propelled him up the ratings.

33. Mateo Corbo

A surprisingly enduring spirit. Corbo’s defining characteristic during his thirteen game spell at the club was his ability to get booked. 

32. Lee Bradbury

A striker who was too good for the team that he played with; or so the argument goes. Bradbury signed from Portsmouth with a reputation for goals; signing him was quite a coup. The problem seemed to be that he was so ahead of his team mates that he was never in the right place to put the ball in the back of the net.  

Defining moment: A bicycle kick from point blank range against Torquay.

31. Matt Murphy

Very much a nineties man; his career just about dipped into the 2000s, but it was what he did before that really made his name.

30. Jefferson Louis

Before characters like Danny Hylton and Jamie Mackie, there was Jefferson Louis. Signed from Thame United after a spell in prison, Louis was all arms and legs. In 2003 he got on the end of a James Hunt throw-in the 2nd Round of the FA Cup against Swindon Town to score the winner. He was then filmed stark naked live on daytime TV celebrating the fact we’d drawn Arsenal in the next round. Not exactly a one man club, at the last count he’d played for 45.

Defining moment: His glancing header that beat Swindon in the FA Cup in 2003.

29. Andy Woodman

When Ian Atkins became manager in 2001 he rolled into town a battalion of proven players. Andy Woodman stood behind an impenetrable defensive unit and never looked flustered. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.

Defining moment: Saving a key penalty in 2002 to dump Charlton out of the League Cup.

28. Simon Clist

Not all heroes wear capes. Simon Clist was integral to the 2010 promotion team as the balancing force in midfield. Dannie Bulman won the battle, passed it to Clist, who passed it to Adam Chapman or Adam Murray to create something. It was fantastically effective. Clist was integral to that machinery.

27. Mike Ford

Another player whose position is probably more down to what he did outside the decade than what he did in it. Mike Ford was never the nimblest of players and by 2000 he was on his last legs. But, in terms of what he gave to the club before that, he’ll never be bettered.

26. Tommy Mooney

Notoriously tight with his money, Firoz Kassam was prone to the odd panic buy – Paul Moody, Andy Scott, Lee Bradbury. Tommy Mooney came with baggage, a former Swindon striker, but at a time when we were so self-possessed, that didn’t matter too much. Mooney came with an excellent reputation. He didn’t let us down scoring 15 goals in the season he was with us. In reality he was just squeezing out a few more signing-on fees before age caught up with him. In a flash, he was gone. 

25. Matt Green

Matt Green would have been much higher up the list had his Oxford career been more straightforward. His first stint was in 2007 on loan from Cardiff, then he was all set to sign on a permanent deal, but took a diversion on the way to the ground and spent a year at Torquay. Eventually Chris Wilder signed him to make up part of a devastating three pronged attack in our Conference promotion year. 

Defining moment: His sensational volley to open the scoring at Wembley in 2010.

24. Adam Murray

Something of a forgotten man; Adam Murray joined in 2008 and skippered the promotion side for a good chunk of the season. Sadly injury meant he missed the last 4 months of the season meaning James Constable picked up the arm band and Adam Chapman pulled the strings in midfield. A creative talent that dug us out of the hole we were in at the time.

23. Jamie Cook

Jamie Cook had a curious Oxford career; he emerged in the 90s but played second fiddle to brighter homegrown stars. Left to pursue a very serviceable career. Returned in 2009 where he again played a bit part in our promotion campaign. Despite this, will always be fondly remembered at the club.

Defining moment: A 25-yard screamer against Luton Town in 2009.

22. Chris Hargreaves

A warrior who led his team into a hopeless battle to avoid relegation from the football team in 2006. Vowed to right a wrong in the Conference, but was last seen kicking a water bottle in frustration as we fell to Exeter in the play-off semi-final. Came back 3 years later mostly as a cheerleader to finally see us get back into the Football League in 2010.

21. Andy Crosby

Sometimes you just need to be held in the arms of a big strong man who will protect you. Andy Crosby was a colossus in Ian Atkins’ pragmatic team of 2001-2004. A metronomic ability to score penalties also meant that he threatened the goalscorers charts as well as held the back line together.

20. Bobby Ford

An enigmatic lost soul who seemed blighted by his talent. Returned to the club in 2002 having played in the top flight with Sheffield United to play in a team barely suited to his style.

19. Jack Midson

Gentleman Jack Midson first floated into view scoring an imperious lob over Billy Turley while playing for Histon in 2008. Eventually Chris Wilder brought him to the club, where he provided all the craft we needed to see us promoted in 2010. Quickly ejected by Wilder, Midson returned from a loan spell to score a hat-trick against Torquay in the Miracle of Plainmoor. And that was pretty much him done.

Defining moment: His winner versus Yeovil Town in the FA Cup in 2009

18. Les Robinson

Les Robinson wasn’t a millennium guy; he only played 26 games in the 21st Century, just 6% of all the games he played for us. But it’s a lasting testament to his legacy that he was still better than over 200 players who did play during the decade.

17. Dannie Bulman

Dannie Bulman was key to Chris Wilder’s rescue effort in 2009 being the tenacious ball winner that galvanised our promotion effort. He quickly fell out of favour and we spent much of our first season back in the Football League trying to replace him. Chris Wilder’s biggest mistake?

16. Paul Powell

Paul Powell was long past his best as the century turned. At one point he’d been our finest asset and could have played for England. But, a broken leg and erratic temperament meant he never quite fulfilled his potential. He did have the dubious honour of scoring the club’s first ever goal at the Kassam Stadium.

15. Phil Gilchrist

Another one of the 90s guys. Phil Gilchrist was re-recruited in 2006 with the help of a Coca Cola competition winner, who funded his transfer. By this point Gilchrist was mostly being held together with sticky tape and rubber bands. For a season, it worked fine, but he fell apart just as we did. 

14. Adam Chapman

Adam Chapman never did things the easy way; he initially joined from Sheffield United on loan but really came into his own taking over from Adam Murray in the final weeks of the 2009/10 season. A week before the play-off final, it was announced that he was to be sentenced for killing a man while driving and texting at the same time. Chapman put in a man-of-the-match performance before being sentenced to a year in a young offenders institute. He was never quite the same again, but did hit the headlines again when he burnt his nipple on baby milk in 2012.

Defining moment: His party-pooping free-kick at Burton which ruined their promotion celebrations in 2009.

13. Damian Batt

A quicksilver full-back with an unstoppable engine, Damian Batt seemed to be capable of defending in his own six yard box one second, then driving in a cross at the other. A key player of the promotion season, he left in 2013 and pursue a somewhat curious life.

12. Jamie Brooks

Jamie Brooks could have been the greatest of them all. A prodigious talent who sparkled during a grim first season at the Kassam. Arsenal took an interest, and apparently on the verge of a move to the Premier League giants was struck down with Guillain–Barré syndrome which nearly cost him his life. Struggled on until 2006 before being released.

Defining moment: Scoring the first competitive goal at the Kassam Stadium.

11. Paul Moody

Paul Moody had provided the goals that brought us promotion in 1996, he left in 1997 but returned in 2001 as a crowd pleasing folly from Firoz Kassam. Actually made a decent fist of it, coming out as leading scorer but seemed to hate every minute. Left after a season.

Defining moment: Hanging off the crossbar at Wycombe in 1996.

10. Chris Hackett

A product of the youth system and a hare down the flank. Threatened to follow the lineage of Brock, Thomas, Beauchamp, Allen and Powell. When you needed a spark, Hackett was your man.

Defining moment: Probably being sold to Hearts just when we needed him most.

9. Billy Turley

A self-consciously self-styled ‘character’ whose lunatic antics in goal between 2005 and 2010 kept our spirits up during bleak times. At times magnificent, but equally susceptible to the odd calamity as illustrated by his gaff that led to Leyton Orient’s first goal in the relegation decider in 2006 and a missed penalty against Exeter in 2007. I mean, they were biggies; but that was Turley.

Defining moment: Maybe his last meaningful contribution to the club, an unbelievable save in 2010 against Wrexham.

8. Mark Creighton

The Beast. Chris Wilder had a strategy for us in 2009/10 – we were finally going to use our status as a large fish in a small pond to our advantage. Creighton dominated in every thing he did. A rock and a leader, he was surprisingly moved on by Wilder in 2010. 

Defining moment: Last minute goal against York City in 2009

7. Yemi Odubade

Yemi Odubade appeared if by magic during an FA Cup game at Eastbourne Borough. He won a penalty which snatched them a draw and ran us ragged in the replay despite losing. Brian Talbot wasted no time in snapping him up. Possessed blistering pace and was a rare joy in a dark time, his 45-yard goal against Dagenham and Redbridge in 2007 a moment of pure ecstasy.

Defining moment: That goal against Dagenham and Redbridge.

6. Ryan Clarke

There’s a good argument that Ryan Clarke was pound-for-pound the best Oxford player of the decade. Others had goals, Clarke probably saved more than everyone else put together.

Defining moment: Too many to mention, but let’s go with saving 8 out of 14 penalties around 2010 and 2011.

5. Joey Beauchamp 

Joey Beauchamp was not a man of the 2000s, by that point his career was in decline. But it is his enduring legend which has placed him at number 5. Disgracefully dumped by the club without the sniff of a testimonial in 2002; the streets remember Joey.

Defining moment: Joey’s 35-yard screamer against Blackpool in 1996.

4. Steve Basham

Blighted by injuries, Steve Basham was too good for a club falling apart. A striker who played with his head, which was somewhat out of keeping during the brutish Ian Atkins years. Always scored goals, but at the same time looked a little out of place.

Defining moment: Scoring the winner to knock Millwall out of the League Cup in 2003.

3. Dean Whitehead

The nineties produced a raft of great homegrown talents, it was a machine that helped keep the club afloat. It was dismantled in the 2000s, which makes Dean Whitehead’s talent all the more remarkable. Not only did he possess a skill with the ball, he developed a work ethic and discipline which saw him play at the very top of the game.

Defining moment: A breathtaking farewell free-kick against Rochdale in 2004

2. Alfie Potter

Alfie Potter arrived in 2009 and only played 13 games in the decade, but while he wasn’t the most regular of starters, nearly everything good that happened involved him. Scoring the iconic third goal at Wembley in 2010, destroying Portsmouth 4-1 in 2013 and scoring the winner against Swindon in the JPT in 2012, Potter’s career was defined by magical moments.

Defining moment: The third goal at Wembley.

1. James Constable

Was James Constable a player for the 2000s? Or the 2010s? Or was he just the greatest Oxford United player of the century (so far). Let’s go with that. A goal machine, a loyal stalwart, a thoroughly nice bloke, there’s nothing Beano couldn’t do.

Defining moment: Where do you start?

Midweek Fixture: The Absolute State of Oxford United Mid-season Survey – Results

Back in July I ran a survey – The Absolute State of Oxford United – in an attempt to get a benchmark for the season. You can read about it here, here and here. Being impatient, I decided to do a smaller survey to mark the mid-point of the season to see how things have changed. These are the results.

January is a funny month; the transfer window is open, there are hot flushes of optimism from new signings, disruption from cup games with all their highs and lows and then there’s the league. So unlike the summer survey, the Absolute State of Oxford United Mid-Season Survey doesn’t assess Oxford in a steady state.

That said, the results from the January survey remained fairly consistent throughout the three weeks it was open despite moving up to 2nd then down to 5th in the league, progressing in the FA Cup and signing five players. 

There’s been a notable uptick in the overall perception of the club. Understandable really, we’ve just come off an excellent run in the League Cup, beat the league leaders, risen to second in the table and progressed to an FA Cup tie against Newcastle on Saturday. In the summer, the overall average rating was 6.7 out of 10, the mid-season survey saw a hop up to 8.7.

This was higher than any of the individual components showing that the club is greater than the sum of its parts. The squad was rated 8.3 out of 10 – up from 6.2. Karl Robinson’s stock has risen sharply to 8.4 from 6.1, recognition that he’s driving the success more than anything.

The board’s ratings lagged behind a little, which is perhaps understandable because there’s always demand for more in terms of investment as well as a general mistrust any board’s intentions. In the summer, off the back of multiple winding up orders, the board were rated just 4.9 out of 10, mid-season it has risen to 7.6.

The relationship between fans and club also jumped from 5 to 7.6. While these scores are lower than the on-field scores, the difference between the summer and now is greatest off the field. I don’t think this is necessarily because the board have made the most progress, more that it’s easier to make progress from a low base. It would be a strange club where the board was rated more highly than the squad.

When it came to players, we’re not comparing like for like; the squad in the summer wasn’t complete and only 12 players picked up votes. Gavin Whyte led the way back then with 31.7% of the vote followed by Cameron Brannagan with 18.4%.

Brannagan has held his top spot this time around with a marginal improvement to 19.3%, but there’s notable movements below. 

The biggest mover is Rob Dickie picking up 16.5% of the vote putting him second, a 16.2 percentage point improvement. Shandon Baptiste was third with his share of the vote increasing from 4.1% to 12.8%. James Henry was 4th jumping by 8.8 percentage points. Of the new signings, Alex Gorrin just pipped Matty Taylor to top spot, which is perhaps a bit of a surprise, but showing an astute appreciation that success is not just about who scored the goals, something the average matchday sponsor might do well to learn.

The biggest losers in the vote, perhaps surprisingly, were Josh Ruffels whose vote share dropped by -13.5 percentage points and Simon Eastwood – 6.3. I don’t think this is a significant reflection the performances of either player, these things are relative. I think it’s more a reflection that there are plenty of new shiny toys in the squad to vote for.

A wave of optimism has seen expectations rise; 30.5% expect us to finish second at the end of the season with 13.5% expecting us to win the title. Just 8.5% of the vote don’t expect us to make the play-offs so the bar is pretty high. 

The FA Cup was a funny one given what’s coming on Saturday, 93.2% expected us to make the fourth or fifth round, but it’s not exactly the hardest thing to judge.

Oddly, fans see Coventry City now as title favourites despite them not hitting top spot at any point in the season, this was followed by Ipswich Town – who have been on a terrible run – and Rotherham United, who are top. We’re seen as fourth favourites. Early pacesetters Wycombe picked up 3.2% of the vote, nobody seems convinced by them.

At the bottom 74.2% expect Southend to finish bottom with Bolton picking up 24.4%. MK Dons were the only other team voted for, which may just be out of spite.

So, what does this all tell us; it tells us the brutal reality that every time you improve, expectations rise. The ultimate point is that expectations reach such a pitch it is no longer possible to meet them. But, until then, all the signs are good; we’re in a happy place with a lot to play for, we should enjoy it while it lasts.

Midweek fixture: Absolute state of Oxford United survey – summer results review

Back in July I ran a survey to see what people thought about the state of Oxford United. You can see the results here and here. There’s another, shorter, mid-season survey currently running here, if you want to take part. There were two reasons for the survey; to track progress over time and to provide benchmarks against which we can monitor our performance.  

We’re just past the halfway point in the season; so it seems opportune to review how we’re doing against the benchmarks we set ourselves in the summer.  

Overall

In the league, pre-season predictions were that we’d finish between 8th and 10th, so our current 4th position is polling higher than we’d expected. Just 1.1% of you thought we finish 4th, 1.9% higher, the rest lower. 

It probably goes without saying that we’re out-performing in the cups; over half expected us to make only the 2nd Round of the League Cup, so our quarter-final spot was some way in advance of that. 3.7% thought we’d reach that far, with 1.3% of people thinking we’d go further.

In the FA Cup,  49% expected us to make the third round of the FA Cup so we’ve already beaten that. 17% thought we would make the 4th Round. About 3% thought we’d go further.

So, on that basis – we’re higher in the League than 97% of you thought we’d be, we’ve gone further in the League Cup than 95% thought and in the FA Cup further than 80% predicted. Not bad.

The league pre-season favourites were Portsmouth who are 10th, one place behind Sunderland – who were predicted to finish third. Ipswich were predicted to be 2nd but are currently 5th. The biggest surprise of the lot, of course, is Wycombe who are top despite a pre-season prediction they’d finish 23rd.

Wycombe aside, those at the bottom were largely predicted – everyone knew Bury were in trouble and Bolton’s problems were well known. Rochdale were expected to finish 21st, but are currently 18th. Sol Campbell’s Southend were predicted 17th and are currently 22nd.

Board

Board predictions focussed on winding up orders so it’s good to see no more have materialised. Some predicted a change of chairman, but that hasn’t happened and while Stewart Donald may be trying to extract himself at Sunderland, it seems the prospect of him coming to Oxford are remote.

Firoz Kassam featured in a number of predictions, but he’s been notably quiet in recent months. On the other hand, the prediction that Eric Thohir would leave after being a damp squib turned out to be true. Overall, predictions of instability have not materialised.

Stadium

All sorts of things were predicted of the stadium, but despite some positive noises from the board, we appear to be largely where we were six months ago. The training ground, which nobody talked about, is probably the most important development in that area.

Manager

Predictions that Karl Robinson wouldn’t make it until October or would be sacked by Christmas haven’t happened. Some pleaded that he’ll get some credit, and that does seem to have happened, though he’s yet to be given the freedom of the city. He did sign a player he’s worked with before – Tariqe Fosu, he hasn’t punched a fourth official (but has come close), he has blamed the referee on a number of occasions. Derek Fazackerly has not announced his retirement.

Players

We’ve yet to see whether Cameron Brannagan, Rob Dickie or Mark Sykes will go in January. Recruitment has definitely improved, our top scorer isn’t a loan player, but Matty Taylor is in second. Top scorer James Henry is on track to grab 20 goals. Predictions that we won’t have enough firepower up front at the start of the season or that we’ll sign a striker who’s rubbish don’t seem to have happened. The idea that we’d concede too many goals because we haven’t replaced Curtis Nelson, again seemed baseless.

It was predicted that we’d sign loan players who would return in January, Chris Cadden fits the bill there, and we have had an injury crisis for no obvious reason.

Gavin Whyte didn’t go in January for £5m, he went for £2m in August it also means he won’t end as top scorer. Someone predicted that Rob Hall wouldn’t play more than 10 games, which he has, albeit mostly in cup competitions.

Results

There was no consensus about how things would go on the pitch, so we’ve been everything and nothing that anyone has predicted. It has been exciting rather than disappointing. We haven’t had a points deduction and Christmas was not in any way a poor one. We also won during an international break (against Doncaster) and we didn’t beat Sunderland away.

And other things…

Moaning has been largely absent this season, we won’t draw Swindon in a cup competition and Jim Smith, Womble and John Shuker are all Oxford legends that have passed away – a sadly accurate prediction from someone. I haven’t seen any dogs on the pitch and, as far as I know Ollie and Olivia Ox haven’t had a baby called Oswald.