When Reading welcome Cardiff City to the Madejski Stadium tonight, one former player still retains cult status among both sets of fans, and as the 20th anniversary of his death approaches next month, givemefootball looks at the argument about whether Robin Friday was the greatest player to have played for the Royals.
Born in 1952, Friday spent his early years growing up in the London suburb of South Acton. He was an Everton fan, and would often be found playing football with his twin brother Tony playing on Acton Green.
The talent of Friday was spotted early enough, and he soon found himself on the books of QPR and Chelsea as a 14-year-old. However his spell at Chelsea was only a brief one, with Tony believing the then Chelsea manager Tommy Docherty didn’t see him as a team player.
Friday wasn’t out of football for long though, and through a family friend began training at the now defunct Walthamstow Avenue. His debut for the side came against Bromley in March 1971. He began impressing and soon secured a move to Hayes, a move that suited him with it being closer to his home in Acton and the opportunity to earn more money.
Friday’s move also allowed him to join some of his teammates working on the building sites of London. It was there where a major turning point of his life came when he suffered a serious injury at work, with doctors fearing he would die. It was the ‘near death experience’ that acted as a catalyst for his ‘off-the-field’ lifestyle that would soon follow.
One story noted from his time at Hayes was when his team were forced to kick-off the start of one match with just ten players, with the eleventh (Robin) still finishing his pint off in the pub. Eventually, he made it onto the pitch and while he didn’t see much of the ball during the game, he was still the only goalscorer in a 1-0 win.
His form was good enough for Reading manager Charlie Hurley to take a punt on him in 1973. Soon he became an instant crowd favourite with his footballing ability wowing the Elm Park crowd, and his off-field antics soon became much discussed. Friday would often been found drinking in the nearby ‘Spread Eagle’ pub, but would turn up and be the best player on the field.
Many fans who witnessed Friday often comment he scored the greatest goal for the club. It was a Friday night as Reading entertained Tranmere at Elm Park towards the back end of the 1975-76 season.
The visitors were promotion contenders at the time, but it was the footballing talent of Friday that stole the show. The ball fell to the feet of Friday just inside the opposition’s half, before he flicked the ball over his shoulder and volleyed it home into the net.
The flamboyant Friday produced a celebration that matched the goal, by running behind the Tilehurst Road goal net before kissing a policeman. The goal earned the applause of legendary referee Clive Thomas who hailed it the best goal he had seen. The season ended on a high for both player and club as they secured promotion out of the old 4th Division with a point at Cambridge.
Later that year, Reading sold Friday to Cardiff City, who acted quickly after selling Adrian Alston. It bought the end of an era to all concerned, with Friday leaving behind a record of 46 goals in 121 appearances. Friday continued his wild behaviour, and just after a year left Cardiff to return to the non-league scene.
His lifestyle would ultimately lead to his death, when on the 22nd December 1990, he was found dead, aged 38 after a suspected heart-attack. A complex but equally intriguing character, the story of Robin Friday lives on. He has a song dedicated to him by the Super Furry Animals, and his story was told by Paul McGuigan and Paolo Hewitt who wrote a book called ‘The Greatest Football You Never Saw’.
Having never seen him play, it’s difficult to me to make a judgement on whether he is the greatest player to have worn the blue and white hoops but having spoke to a number of people, it’s clear the story of Robin Friday is a distinctly unique story of the talented footballer who led his life to maximum both on and off the pith.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.