Robin Friday – A True Football LegendWritten by Ian Park
So why then was the less than reliable, often temperamental Friday named in the Reading Team of the millennium? Even though he only played for the club for three years as well as being awarded the title of Cardiff City's all time "Cult Hero?" Because Robin Friday wasn't just an exceptional football talent, capable of unbelievable moments on a pitch, blessed with balance and poise, Robin Friday was a maverick and football's first true rock and roller.
When Robin Friday started playing football with non-league outfit Hayes he quickly gained a reputation for unbridled talent but also his love of excess. On one occasion the Hayes team had to start a game with 10 men as he was finishing a pre-match pint. When he did arrive the opposition defenders took no notice of him as he staggered round the football pitch, that was until he grabbed the winning goal.
When Friday moved from Hayes to second division Reading in 1973 it didn't take long for him to make an impression with both manager and fans. Reading played visitors Tranmere in a league match, the dull game didn't seem to be leading anywhere. That was until a Tranmere attack had broken down and the Reading goalkeeper threw the ball out to right back Gary Peters. Peters noticed that Friday was loitering at the left hand corner of the penalty box. He launched the ball towards the long haired striker, who by this time was running towards the ball, without breaking stride he jumped, controlling the ball with his chest. Upon landing Friday spun around, still with the ball on his chest and letting the ball fall, Friday caught it and volleyed it into the top corner of the far post. The crowd were left dumb founded, Reading and Tranmere players as well as referee Clive Thomas could only applaud as Friday ran towards the home fans to celebrate. Stopping on the way to give a clapping policeman a kiss for good measure. Clive Thomas talked of the goal after the match. "I've refereed at World Cups, I've seen Pele, George Best and Johan Cryff, this rates as the best goal I've ever seen" When he asked Friday "What are you doing playing at this level? I've never seen anyone score a goal like that" Friday cheekily replied "You should come down here more often, I score goals like that all the time!"
With such performances Robin Friday became a local hero, but with notoriety comes temptation. Already a hardened drinker he took his drinking to new levels disappearing for days on end on madness strewn, binge sessions. He became such a nuisance in Reading that at one point he was banned from nearly every pub in the town, he would often become a bad tempered aggressive drunk causing arguments and fights. It was a reported fact Friday would not only enjoy fighting, he did it best whilst naked!
During this period his list of mishaps and misbehaving grew. Reading management thought it a good idea to calm the ever restless Friday down by moving him into a street full of pensioners. It had the reverse effect, he would terrorize his older neighbours in the day and play heavy metal music all night. He also stole clothes from markets, posed as a train station security guard so he could get free tickets and had a fondness for robbing statues from grave yards. On top of this Friday had started to use massive amounts of Cocaine and L.S.D and it was during one such binge that one of his legendary tales came about. Reading were playing away from home, other players talk of Friday walking around the hotel naked throwing darts and snooker balls around the games room. A team meeting was called later in the day and Friday, arrived obviously still drunk, carrying a swan under his arm which he had stolen from a nearby lake! His behaviour on the pitch wasn't much better. He would drink before games and regularly showed up drunk. He would often fight with team mates and opponents alike. This behaviour would only get worse as Friday left Reading.
Due to Robin's continued eye catching performances on the pitch and his out of hours activities Reading accepted a bid for him in late 1976 from second division Cardiff as replacement for Adrian Alston. Cardiff City manager Jimmy Andrews commented that he felt he was taking advantage of Reading, but was simply told "you'll see" and see he did as the never far from trouble striker managed to fall foul of the law on his first day in the Welsh capital. He was arrested at Cardiff station allegedly for fare jumping on the train from Reading. The first job for Andrews was to bail Friday out of prison. This set the tone for the rest of Friday's short lived Bluebird career. The night before his debut for Cardiff, Friday went on a pub crawl to check out the Cardiff night-life. He was out until five in the morning when he decided it was time to rest up for his debut. So he went to bed, with a dozen bottles of beer. He then went out the next day and played a blinder against Fulham. Whilst being marked by England World Cup Winning Captain Bobby Moore, Robin managed to score two goals and also found time to grab Moore by the balls.
The Bluebirds at this time were facing a massive battle to stay in the second division. They managed to pull out of an upset by beating high-fliers Luton. Robin managed to score twice in the 4-2 victory, helping Cardiff avoid the drop. After one of his goals the striker turned and flicked a V-sign salute towards Luton keeper Milija Aleksic. Friday's defiance came after the goalkeeper had fouled him earlier in the game. Years later the image would be used on the cover of the Super Furry Animals single 'The Man Don't Give A Fuck'...how apt!
Robin Friday's most memorable moment and ultimately final act as a Cardiff player came when playing Brighton in October '77. Friday became more and more frustrated at the tight marking he was receiving from a young Irish defender Mark Lawrenson (Yes THAT Mark Lawrenson!) Friday waited for Lawerenson to put in yet another well timed tackle before turning round and kicking the defender full in the face. He received a red card and left the pitch, still not finished with Lawrenson and still agitated, Friday broke into the Brighton dressing room and defecated in Lawrenson's kit bag, before leaving the ground to take part in yet another drink binge.
Friday left football in 1977 after only twenty games for the Bluebirds, he reportedly said he was 'sick of being told what to do'. He still had undoubted talent and many feel he wasted his talent. Some have gone so far as to say that he should not have received such recognition due to his violent nature and substance issues. Robin Friday returned to London and worked as an asphalter, but unfortunately was never able to control his demons. He went through two acrimonious divorces and lived in squalor. He died in 1990 of a suspected heart attack at the age of 38. A wasted talent or a tortured genius? Robin Friday lived life his own way and his football career was criminally short, in the words of Neil Young 'It's Better to Burn Out, Than To Fade Away' which is exactly what he did in both his professional and personal life.
Reading coach Maurice Evans once pointed out to Friday, no doubt in frustration. "What age are you son? If you could just settle down for a few years, you could play for England" Friday's reply was "What age are you? I'm half your age but I've lived twice the life you have!"......you can't really argue with him can you?
© Words – Ian "having a party" Park