Robin Friday is the greatest player ever to play for Reading. He was voted into Reading’s team of the millennium and is highly regarded by all fans. Even though I myself never saw him play, I have grown up with stories of his talents, and his off field antics!
He most certainly lived life in the fast lane.
Friday started his career at Walthamstow Avenue where he was a regular goal scorer, and tipped for a great future. He then moved to Hayes, as he was offered more money. On one occasion, Hayes started a game with only ten players as Friday was at the pub polishing off a pint.
When he eventually arrived ten minutes late he was clearly drunk and spent the game staggering around. The opposition naturally ignored him until he popped up to score the only goal of the game, and in his later career a lot more of this was to come.
In 1973, Friday became a Reading player, signing his first professional contract of his career. He scored 55 goals in 135 games for the then nicknamed Biscuitmen. He quickly became the fans’ favourite. Fans will remember him walking onto the pitch with his socks round his ankles, straggly long hair and his ultimate presence on the pitch.
I was once told a story of how Friday took on a player, leaving him lying in his wake only to turn around and take the player on once more for the fun of it.
It is said Friday scored the greatest-ever goal, almost certainly for Reading, if not ever! Sadly, the games in most lower division matches were never recorded for television.
It was against Tranmere Rovers in 1976, he was outside the left hand corner of the box when the ball came to him, he leaped in the air, caught the ball on his chest, with his back to goal, spun around and fired the ball into the net, stunning the players and fans alike. He then ran behind the goal and kissed a policeman, the celebration only a man like him could produce.
Clive Thomas, the Welsh referee taking charge of proceedings that day said ‘even up against the likes of Pele and Cruyff, that rates as the best goal I have ever seen’.
Friday replied by saying he should come more often as he does that sort of thing every week. On another occasion, Friday was waiting in the box for the delivery of a corner, he was being closely marked by a defender and as the ball was whipped in he turned to the defender, kissed him on lips leaving him stunned motionless, and scored a free header. This sort of thing was a regular occurrence with Friday.
Friday’s off field antics are legend, even to this day. He was a keen drinker and was often found in one of the many pubs local to Elm Park. He was barred from many pubs for fighting. All of this affected his career as it scared managers to buy him. Some believe he could have been one of the greatest players ever, but all the managers were afraid to purchase such an uncontrollable man.
Eventually someone did, and that was Cardiff manager Jimmy Andrews. He took Friday to Cardiff for a knockdown price of £30,000. Andrews commented that he felt he was taking advantage of Reading, to which the reply was 'you’ll see'. Friday did not disappoint, on arrival he was arrested at Cardiff railway station having travelled from Reading with just a platform ticket.
His Cardiff career started with a bang, as he scored two goals against a defence directed by one of England’s greatest ever players, Bobby Moore. On one occasion, playing against football pundit Mark Lawrenson, who then played for Brighton, he became agitated by the Seagulls’ defender.
He kicked Lawrenson in the face and received a red card, heading straight to the Brighton dressing room where he defecated in Lawrenson’s kit bag. He lasted just 25 games for the Bluebirds before simply leaving professional football for good. He began to play non-league football again and claimed he left the professional game as he’d had enough of people telling him what to do.
Sadly, Friday passed away in 1990 aged just 38 from a suspected heart attack. He was always told how good he could be if he just settled down and concentrated on his football.
Reading manager Maurice Evans told Friday: “If you would just settle down for three or four years, you could play for England.” To which Friday replied, “How old are you?” Evans told him and Friday duly responded “I’m half your age and I’ve lived twice your life”.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.