Joey Beauchamp interview: Oxford United hero on infamous 58-day spell at West Ham
Oxford United hero Joey Beauchamp reveals all about his infamous 58-day spell at West Ham, clashing with Harry Redknapp and Billy Bonds, and dealing with depression and death threats
By Simon Watts
Last Updated: 25/09/19 10:47am
A move to the Premier League is meant to be every young footballer's dream. But for Joey Beauchamp, a £1.2m transfer from Oxford United to West Ham in 1994 turned into a 58-day nightmare.
Having just turned 23, Beauchamp was hot property, a skilful winger who caused chaos in opposition defences, whether weaving between defenders down the left on Oxford's famous Manor Ground slope, or cutting in to score with regularity from the right.
England had failed to qualify for that summer's World Cup in the USA, and with a lack of left-footed flair around at the time, there were high hopes for Billy Bonds' new signing, who had given Julian Dicks a torrid time when the sides met two seasons earlier.
"I was probably the one people were looking at to maybe go and play for England if I'd gone to a Premier League outfit," he tells Sky Sports. "It was touted that I was probably good enough."
Oxford had just been relegated from Division One (now the Championship) in 1994 and were under huge financial pressure. So much so that, eight years after he had been a ball boy at the 1986 Milk Cup final at Wembley, the greatest day in the club's history, Beauchamp was told the club would fold if he didn't move on.
"It was put to me that West Ham had come in, and it was a million-pound offer. I was a local player and star, the fans loved me and I lived locally. To me, I was happy where I was. But it was made clear that Oxford needed the money, they needed to pay the wages and if I didn't go, there was a chance they were going to be in trouble. So obviously I felt a bit of pressure."
A two-division jump to play in the top flight wouldn't require much thought for most young players.
But Joey Beauchamp was different.
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"I didn't really want to leave. I was at Oxford doing what I love doing, playing for my hometown team. What could be better? But obviously I did want to play in the Premier League and maybe go on to play for England. It wasn't beyond the realms of possibility that that was going to happen.
"West Ham came in and I was more than happy at the time to sign the contract. I wanted to play for West Ham, I was excited about the move. Unfortunately at the time when I did the deal, I was told I could live in Oxford by someone who was a big part of the deal. I was told that information."
The deal was concluded within hours of Beauchamp meeting the West Ham management at a hotel near Heathrow, less than an hour away from his Oxford home. A key difference between a transfer then and now, however, was that in those days there was no sports management company to ensure a smooth transition to the new club.
Upon arriving at West Ham, there were none of the club liaison officers, welfare officers and psychological support networks that virtually all professional clubs now offer.
Beauchamp felt under pressure to sign the contract there and then, and failed to realise how long the commute would be from Oxford to West Ham. Somehow, between all parties, the elephant in the room - the commute - wasn't addressed before he put pen to paper.
"Obviously I realised when I started training there and they said they needed me to move to London. I was like, 'Hmm, I wasn't told that at the time, that wasn't the plan, I was told something different.'
"I did look at houses around that area, then the club went into a bit of turmoil and Billy Bonds resigned. Harry Redknapp took over and there was interest in me from Swindon. Swindon's just up the road from me, that was in the back of my mind, but I would rather have played for West Ham. I had signed to play for West Ham."
It didn't take long for news of Beauchamp's unhappiness to make it into the media. By the time he made a handful of appearances for West Ham in pre-season, supporters had already turned on him.
I had death threats and people knocking on my parents' door asking if I lived there at ten o'clock at night and stuff like that. It was quite shocking really.
Harry Redknapp blamed the signing of Beauchamp for Bonds' departure as manager that summer. "Matters had still not been resolved by the time we played Portsmouth in a pre-season friendly," Redknapp wrote in his autobiography. "Beauchamp turned up late, made no effort on the pitch and it was the final straw for Bill."
Beauchamp, however, recalls getting so much abuse when he was warming up that he felt physically sick when he came on. A young player in new surroundings, he was an isolated figure. A scapegoat.
"It was made clear that, with the fan uproar at the time, it was best that I go to Swindon," says Beauchamp. "I suppose at that time they were happy that I was gone. It was such a disastrous move. All the blame was put on me and I don't think that was fair.
"I had death threats and people knocking on my parents' door asking if I lived there at ten o'clock at night and stuff like that. It was quite shocking really. This was supposed to be my big move to the Premier League and it just turned quite horrifically sour.
"It's why I probably took the chance to get out and go to Swindon. I thought I was going to get a big chance and was told information that was wrong. To go from thinking this is something great to it all turning into a nightmare, through in my eyes no fault of my own."
No doubt embarrassed by Beauchamp's unwillingness to move to London and his perceived lack of interest in playing for West Ham, it is perhaps understandable that both Bonds and Redknapp felt they needed to save face.
"I can understand how frustrating it must be for the manager when you want a player to play for you and he doesn't want to move up. I had to move up, simple as that. I didn't realise at the time I had to move up and I didn't realise how far it was.
"I signed the contract at Heathrow airport, 45 minutes away, not realising how far away West Ham actually was. It was just too much. I'd just bought my house in Oxford and there lay the problem. Had the Swindon move not come up, it could have been different. Who knows?
"I didn't have anyone to turn to when things went wrong. There was the PFA and they got into parts of the deal when it was up in the air. I've been through depression twice and I know what it's like. This day and age they look after you, everything is completely different from when I've played. That's the way football's gone."
Less than two months after joining West Ham, and having made just a handful of appearances in pre-season, Redknapp sold Beauchamp to Swindon.
It meant he could commute up the A420 from his home in Oxford, but Beauchamp quickly went from hero to villain among the supporters he cared for the most. After Swindon were relegated into Division Two, just 16 months after his big-money move to the Premier League, Beauchamp returned to Oxford in a cut price £75,000 deal in November 1995.
"I think [Swindon's new manager] Steve McMahon just didn't want me there. There were three or four players in pre-season he left to train with the kids. I just felt if they were that desperate to sell me, so why not sell me back to Oxford? That was actually said. He said, 'They can't afford you', but two weeks later I was back at Oxford. He was obviously that desperate to get rid of me that it didn't matter about the money! So Oxford got a bargain."
That season he played a pivotal role in helping the side to promotion, scoring against his old club Swindon who returned to the second tier with them.
That would be the highest level Beauchamp played at. Over the next seven seasons, he was often the go-to man as Oxford battled against the odds to maintain their status in what is now the Championship amid a continual backdrop of financial disarray.
His performances still attracted interest, but he was never tempted to leave.
"One season I think I had 19 goals and was top scorer. Around that time we had Nigel Jemson as well. I really was back to top form and I did have opportunities.
"I spoke to Kevin Keegan at Fulham and I was interested in going. But I really felt I needed a decent deal. To get me away from Oxford it would take a lot. Financially at 26 or 27, I felt it was an opportunity to set myself up a little bit. Through talks, though, it just broke down.
"There was also interest from Southampton and Nottingham Forest. They were three teams I could certainly have joined but I always felt that loyalty to Oxford and I knew and what had happened before… I would have gladly moved, I had no problem with moving at that time, but it had to be right in every way. It just never happened and that was it."
Beauchamp retired from professional football in 2002, at the end of Oxford United's first season at the Kassam Stadium. Fittingly, he scored a superb volley that was voted goal of the season in his final appearance in a yellow shirt.
Having spent a number of years playing local non-league football alongside his two brothers, Beauchamp initially made a living as a professional gambler having previously owned greyhounds.
Ironically, he now works in a bookmakers, is re-married with two children, and at 48 years of age finally feels at peace with his life in football and outside of it.
"I went through a spell of pretty bad depression. I went to Sporting Chance clinic and saw someone there. I was in quite a bad way at one point. But I've come through it, I've had the strength to get through it. I'm lucky, because some people don't.
"Now I'm enjoying life, it couldn't be much better. I look back on my life with great pride. Would I have changed things? Yes, I could possibly go back and wish I'd gone to London, put everything into it, gone on to be a Premier League star and played for England.
"That is a massive regret I will always have. But then I've got the status and I've played all those games for Oxford. So it's hard to say one way or the other. I live in Oxford, I've lived in Oxford all my life. I don't expect I'm going to be moving!
"To be held in such high regard at your hometown team, to be mentioned in that legendary status is just something to be really proud of."
Loyalty is so often questioned in modern-day football and it was the same back in the 1990s too. For many, it seemed unfathomable that a player would show no interest in the bright lights of the Premier League and the multi-million pound riches that come with it.
Beauchamp is two years younger than Matt Le Tissier. A legend at Southampton, a rare one-club man who is looked upon fondly for turning down opportunities to stay with the club closest to his heart.
By comparison, Beauchamp faced scathing abuse for a perceived lack of ambition and for simply not wanting to re-locate from Oxford.
"I suppose Matt Le Tissier was on TV every week [in the Premier League with Southampton] while I played for Oxford and we were second division then. So we didn't get the exposure. He was happy, I'm sure, at Southampton and I'm sure he could have gone on to better things as well.
"But he showed his loyalty and certainly when I came back I did the same. I sit here today having played 400-odd games for Oxford and scored nearly 80 goals as a winger. That's what I wanted to do when I was young. I never thought I would get that far, so for me, I look back and am very proud of what I've done."
Oxford celebrated their 125th anniversary last season and for many supporters, Joey Beauchamp is the greatest player to have ever pulled on the shirt.
That is enough for him. But maybe now his story has been told, at a time when there is a greater understanding of mental health and wellbeing in football, there will also be a better understanding of the reasons for his short, ill-fated stay at West Ham.