In 1976 the Division Four Trophy may have been the Imps property, but without a doubt the hottest property at the time was a Reading player by the name of Robin Friday.
Friday was an enigma who played just three and a half seasons of professional football. He began his career in late 1973 for The Royals and quickly established the reputation as a player who plied his trade too far down the football spectrum. Goals were created by his brilliance and a struggling Reading side were transformed into title contenders by the vision and guile of Friday alone. However while goals were always flowing thick and fast so were the cards and the controversy. Friday was often the victim of some terrible tackling and would never shy away from confrontation. It was widely believed that Friday was a drug user and a drunk, and this is what contributed to his downfall. It seems more likely that it was his lack of control on the field and his poor record with Lancaster Gate officials that actually eventually led to him quitting the game in October 1977. He had already left Reading for a knockdown fee shortly after Christmas in 1976 and played only 25 games for his new side Cardiff before dropping out of the game.
Fridays name can still be dropped in the offices of Reading and pubs of Cardiff as his legend lives on in stories from those who saw him play. He is adored by Royals fans that still regard him as a player who could easily have obtained international honours with the England team. They remember his magic touch and extraordinary creative vision. For every booking he received they have a story of a wonderful goal and for every dismissal they have a tale of a Gazza style prank or joke. Erratic behaviour combined with sublime footballing skills contributed to make Friday a cult hero on the Elm Park terraces and enabled his memory to live on for many years to come.
Sadly the story doesn’t have a happy ending. After Friday left Reading and moved to Cardiff he slipped off the rails before derailing completely by mid season. Three games before the end of his career he was dismissed for a foul, two games before the end he was cautioned for flicking a ‘V’ sign at an opposition goalkeeper and his last game saw him sent off for swearing at a referee after spending eleven games out injured following a hectic summer of drug and alcohol abuse. Those three games formed a good portion of his entire twenty-five game career, but still Cardiff fans regard him as a hero and that is a testament to the ability Friday possessed.
The modern day Robin Friday wouldn’t have made it to the league ranks at all. He’d still be up on a roof asphalting away and dreaming of what might have been. The game of yesteryear allowed such vivacious characters to slip through and into the nations view whilst today’s game would have cast him aside like a used hanky. His wild and unpredictable nature couldn’t have aligned itself with the strict discipline require in today’s game. Perhaps somewhere in Britain there is a modern day Robin Friday up on a roof dreaming of what might have been.
However Friday did inadvertently play a pivotal role in Lincoln’s triumph that season. Despite his best attempts to push Reading into title contention he had already helped seal Lincoln’s success. As an amateur playing for Hayes he was brought in to add spice to Reading’s forward line, a forward line that contained a certain Percy Freeman.
Friday was a hit and City signed Reading reject Freeman in time for him to fire them to a record points haul. Friday’s trickery and goals helped Reading up to third position and a place back in Division Three.
The full story of Robin Friday is an intriguing an engrossing account of lower league football during the mid seventies. Written by Oasis bassist
Paul McGuigan and a fellow called Paulo Hewitt it tells of a three year rise and fall of a player seemingly focused on playing the game as it should have been and then equally as intent on pressing his own self destruct button. It has to be strongly recommended if only for its ability to encapsulate exactly what it would be like if that unbalanced guy you know from the pub with a bit of skill actually got paid for playing the game he loved.