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.