James Constable's brace yesterday at the County Ground was just the latest in a series of heroic acts during his time at the club. Beano's reputation as cult hero was never in any doubt before yesterday's match, his goalscoring record was already the most impressive since Paul Moody, but yesterday's events and the circumstances surrounding them could prove to be enough to elevate him to the status of 'Oxford legend' in the eyes of many fans.
Constable's goal tally – 26 in his first season, another 26 the next, and 17 in League Two last season – speaks for itself, but it doesn't tell the whole story. He was a small bright spot in Darren Patterson's miserable reign and when Chris Wilder took over it was Constable who shone the brightest. Constable was the central player in Oxford's promotion campaign and his goals in both playoff semi-finals, as well as the final itself, were iconic moments and lifelong memories for all Us fans.
However, promotion back to the Football League raised questions about his ability at a higher level. He was able to answer them satisfactorily and although last season's return of 17 goals was lower than in previous seasons, it was the first time he had played regularly in the League and was achieved playing for a midtable side, rather than one challenging at the sharp end in the Conference. Beano's untouchable position was, however, challenged by the signing of Tom Craddock, who came close to stealing Constable's top-scorer crown, with 15 goals last season.
But this season had begun without a goal for Beano and despite playing a part in all four of the club's opening matches, he failed to find the scoresheet. A small barren run like this is not such a problem if others are scoring, but the rest of the strikeforce has hardly been prolific so far, and only the on-loan Lewis Guy had found the net before the trip to Swindon.
Other events were even more concerning. Constable was replaced as captain by Jake Wright and rumours of a much more serious threat to Constable's future as an Oxford player began to circulate. The club made no secret of the fact that bids have been made for him from non-league Luton Town, as well as interest from elsewhere. Public statements from Kelvin Thomas did very little to dampen rumours of an imminent departure, instead appearing more like an invitation for a higher bid. Presumably sensing the unease around the club, Paolo Di Canio's comments that they'd love to have Constable at the club, as well as accusing him of being a Swindon fan (what an insult!) focused attention and pressure on the number 9.
Yesterday's performance and goals are a timely reminder of what an important player Constable is. While the whole team – and particularly the defence – deserve credit, it was James Constable's name that made all the headlines this morning, and yet again he is central to another great moment for Oxford fans. And of course we loved him for it. And, after cheering the players off at the end of the match, filing out of the County Ground yesterday afternoon I heard the fans around me singing a new chant that I'm not sure I've heard before. It went like this:
“Beano is a legend, Beano is a legend, na na na na, na na na na”
Picture from OUFC.co.uk