|Even after his death, Robin Friday was seen as a maverick: Super Furry Animals used this image on the cover of their single 'The Man Don't Give a Fuck'|
Robin Friday is the greatest footballer you never saw. A mercurial talent with a taste for the high-life, during the 1970's - the age of the football maverick - Friday shone the brightest. He was voted Reading FC's player of the millennium, despite only being at the club three years. And was also voted Cardiff City's all-time cult hero, paralleled to the fact he only played 25 games for the club. Wherever he went, Robin Friday left a remarkable impression.
Born in Acton, London, Friday began his football career at non-league side Walthamstow Avenue as a loud-mouthed 19-year-old. It was during this time that he worked on a construction site and nearly died falling from scaffolding, being impaled on a metal spike, missing vital organs by inches. It was this accident that he blamed on his subsequent wild lifestyle.
Initially, Friday was reluctant to play professionally, as it was less money than he was earning at the time. Nevertheless, Reading kept persisting, and they eventually got their man in the summer of 1973. In a brief three year spell for the Royals, Friday scored 55 goals in 135 matches, and provided a countless number of assists. It could, and probably should have been more were it not for the injury problems Friday encountered, brought about by his reluctance to wear shinpads and the opposition - unable to get near their man - kicking lumps out of him.
In a game against Tranmere Rovers in March 1976 Friday scored, what is generally considered, 'the greatest goal never seen'. Standing on the left-hand touchline about 35 yards away from goal; a high ball came towards his chest. As his back was towards goal, he, with his chest, flicked the ball over his head, and on the volley, sent the ball crashing into the far top-hand corner. The internationally renowned referee Clive Thomas was officiating that day, and his reaction to the goal was to clutch his face in utter disbelief. Asked later about the strike, he said: 'Even up against the likes of Pele and Cryuff, that rates as the best goal I've ever seen,' In typical fashion, when told about Thomas's comments, Friday replied: 'He should come more often then. I do that every week.'
That year, Reading were promoted to the Second Division for the first time in their history. Without Robin Friday, that would never have happened. Yet, three months later, Friday was sold to Cardiff City. And six months later, he had left the game for good. So how could such a talent never be allowed to play top-flight football?
The answer is simple: if George Best was football's first pop star, then Robin Friday was football's first rock star. He literally ran riot in Reading. Smoking weed, dropping pills, drinking heavily and accommodating every woman that came his way. Friday's off-field antics became so infamous that visiting scouts - of which their were many - refused to gamble on signing a man of such unpredictable actions. The summer-long celebrations he undertook after taking Reading to the Second Division signalled an unbelievably rapid physical decline. Hence the move to Cardiff.
His brief tenure in Wales started badly. Travelling from Reading to Cardiff by train, he was arrested on arrival for travelling without a ticket; leaving the Cardiff City management to wonder where on earth he had got to? His eye for the sublime wasn't lost however, as later that month, on his debut against Fulham, Friday scored two goals in a 3-0 win, celebrating his second goal by squeezing the testicles of Bobby Moore, Fulham's captain. The Welsh fans best remember him for a goal he scored against Luton. Milija Aleksic, the Luton goalkeeper, had constantly tried to foul Friday during the game. So, as he went round the 'keeper to score his team's winning goal, he flicked the 'V's' at the stranded Serbian.
In all, he scored 6 goals in 25 games for the Bluebirds. His last game was marred by a rash sending-off in a game against Brighton: kicking Mark Lawrenson in the face (yes, that Mark Lawrenson) before defecating in his kit bag. After that, he walked out on the game for good.
Sadly, Friday died in 1990, found in his flat having been suspected of overdosing on heroine. He was only 38.
Maurice Evans, Reading's manager during the 70's once told Friday: "If you settle down for three or four years you could play for England". Friday replied, "How old are you?", Evans answered, and Friday duly told him: "I'm half your age, and I've lived twice your life".