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.
There are two goals that Reading fans still discuss today, goals you’ll never see, nor will I. In February 1974 Reading were playing Doncaster Rovers. Friday is lounging about, 25 yards from goal when he suddenly calls for a pass. As the ball arrives, Friday hits it first time with the outside of his foot, from a seemingly impossible angle. The ball passes the static goalkeeper and then, exactly as intended, defies logic and swerves at the last-minute into the net.
Two years later Reading are up against Tranmere Rovers. Friday is about 35 yards from the Rovers goal when the ball is powerfully sent his way. He controls it on his chest and then smashes it with his right foot, before turning. The power on the shot is such that within two seconds it is bursting the top right-hand corner of the Rovers net. The stadium is stunned into absolute silence as everyone tries to understand what has just happened.
After the game the referee, Clive Thomas, announces: “Even up against the likes of Pele and Cruyff that rates as the best goal I have ever seen.”
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. He also lived his life in much the same way he played his football. On the field he was enigmatic, unpredictable and wild. Off it he smoked spliff, dropped pills, drank heavily and was more than happy to make the most of his local celebrity status with every woman that came his way. Such were his off-field activities that the many visiting scouts from top clubs refused to recommend signing a man who was so incredibly unpredictable.
As City were celebrating the Fourth Division title in 1976, third placed Reading were on the promotion bandwagon too. The summer-long celebrations Friday enjoyed after promotion signalled an unstoppable physical decline. Despite being the king of Reading, he was sold after to Cardiff City for a knockdown fee shortly after Christmas in 1976. On his way to sign for his new club he was arrested for boarding a train without a ticket. Sadly, he played only 25 games for his new side before dropping out of the game.
Friday’s 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 off field misdemeanour, they have a tale of a genius with the ball. 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.
Friday walked out of Cardiff, and away from football, in the summer of 1977. Twelve years later he was found dead of a suspected heroin overdose.
If there is a modern-day Robin Friday, he 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 onto the nation’s pitches 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 minor 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, a success by which everything is still measured today. 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 Freeman as he was surplus to requirements at Elm Park, just in time for him to fire us to a record points haul. Friday’s trickery and goals helped Reading up to third position and a place back in Division Three, but they ended the campaign fourteen points adrift of Taylor’s Imps.
The full story of Robin Friday is an intriguing an engrossing account of his rise and fall 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 blessed with a talent beyond the reaches of many but intent on pressing his own self destruct button.
In 1996, the Super Furry Animals dedicated their song ‘The Man Don’t Give a F***’ to their hero who they had watched on the terraces, who played and lived in the image of fellow football icon George Best.