JOEY Beauchamp was the player who made fans of a certain generation fall in love with Oxford United.

Just say the word ‘Joey’ and those supporters are transported back to the Manor Ground, watching their hero glide down the slope towards the London Road with a trail of defenders tackling thin air.

Even that does not sum up how much he meant, and continues to mean, to all connected with United.

Beauchamp’s career was like something out of a comic book: an Oxford boy whose talent could have taken him right to the very top, yet he only ever wanted to play for his home town club.

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Born and raised in the city, Beauchamp played for Summertown Stars as a youngster and was famously a ball boy at the 1986 Milk Cup final at Wembley, United’s greatest day.

He signed as a YTS trainee the following year and made his debut on May 13, 1989, coming off the bench in a 4-0 home defeat to Watford.

It would have been a special moment for the then 18-year-old and many more would follow.

Beauchamp made a handful of appearances over the next two seasons and was loaned to third-tier Swansea City in late 1991, returning to the Manor just before Christmas.

The winger scored the first of his 77 U’s goals in only his third game back, finding the net in a 3-0 win over Sunderland on December 28.

Beauchamp was on target in three of his next four matches, including against Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup third round. The Birkenhead club were the opponents when he created his first unforgettable memory for United.

GALLERY: Joey Beauchamp's Oxford United career in pictures

The U’s visited Prenton Park on the final day of the 1991/92 season knowing even a win would not guarantee Division Two safety, with other results needing to go their way.

Former United hero John Aldridge had just pegged them back to 1-1 when Beauchamp was played through on goal by Micky Lewis – a combination that looks so tragically poignant today.

The winger kept his cool to make it 2-1 and keep his local side in the second tier.

It was far from the last time Beauchamp made the difference for United. In today’s game where everything is measured by statistics, his ‘goal contributions’ would have been off the charts thanks to the countless assists he racked up over the course of 428 matches.

The U’s were in the second and third tiers of English football for most of Beauchamp’s career, but it was clear he had the talent to play higher.

Speak to any supporter who watched United in the 1990s and they will tell you he could have played for England. Former manager Denis Smith, who managed the winger across two spells, said the same thing.

The U’s rejected £1million bids from Premiership clubs Wimbledon and West Ham United before Beauchamp eventually joined the latter in summer 1994.

He became only the second United player to fetch a seven-figure fee, following Dean Saunders’ move to Derby County six years earlier.

Read also: Former clubs and teammates mourn death of Joey Beauchamp

Beauchamp signed off as you would expect, scoring a sensational goal to help United beat Notts County 2-1 on the final day of the 1993/94 season. While it was not enough to prevent the club’s relegation to the third tier, it was more comic-book stuff.

The winger’s six-week spell at West Ham is well-documented: he did not move to London and failed to settle at Upton Park, with his only game a friendly against Oxford City.

If Beauchamp’s move to the Premiership seemed inevitable, his next destination was unthinkable as he joined United’s arch-rivals Swindon Town for £850,000.

He went straight into the starting XI, but lost his first-team place after falling out with manager Steve McMahon as the Robins suffered their second relegation in two years.

It meant Beauchamp and Swindon began the 1995/96 season with United in Division Two, now League One.

Smith seized the chance to bring the local boy home just 16 months after he left, signing the winger for £75,000.

Beauchamp quickly re-established himself as a fans’ favourite and was a key part of United’s unstoppable charge towards promotion in 1996, scoring in a 3-0 win over his former club at the Manor that March.

One Swindon fan could not have put it any better when news of the legend's death broke last night: “RIP Joey Beauchamp, we sadly never saw the best of you in a red shirt, but you tore us apart many times in your beloved yellow.”

That was a memorable night for the U’s, but Beauchamp’s most iconic moment followed just 18 days later.

Blackpool were top of Division Two when they visited the Manor Ground on April 6, 1996, with United’s excellent form putting them in touch with the play-off places.

A closely-fought game was settled by one moment of class and you can guess who provided it.

Les Robinson’s cross was headed to Beauchamp 35 yards out and the winger took a touch before sending a looping volley into the top corner in front of the London Road.

The goal, which was later voted the best at the Manor by U’s supporters, could not have come at a better time.

United won five of their final six matches to secure automatic promotion to Division One, where Beauchamp – now in his mid-20s - continued to show his quality.

His most productive season came in 1997/98, when he scored 19 times from the wing to help the U’s finish 12th in the second tier.

Beauchamp stayed on after relegation in 1999 and struck the only goal in a memorable 1-0 win at Everton in the League Cup second round that September.

It was one of few highlights in a difficult period for United, amid financial troubles and delays to construction of the Kassam Stadium.

Beauchamp continued to feature regularly and played in the last game at the Manor Ground, against Port Vale in May 2001, with the U’s already relegated to the bottom tier of the Football League.

He saved one more magic moment for United’s first season at Grenoble Road, scoring a brilliant volley against Exeter City on February 23, 2002 – his final appearance for the club.

Today, the history books rank Beauchamp sixth in the club’s all-time goalscoring charts and tenth for appearances.

But to many United fans, he is the greatest.