Robin Friday: maverick, rebel, outstanding footballer - in that order.
Maverick. Defined as ‘an unorthodox or independent-minded person‘, it lends itself to all manner of disinclination with the system. Despite the hash tags and twitterings and beyond the young, rich, naivety of some of Britain’s most colourful current footballing characters, the root of conformity for top players remains prevalent.
True, dictionary definition, worthy character references for maverick are hard to come by for top, top footballers, but one diamond in the 1970’s Forth Division rough is the most polished example of exquisite talent and true cerebral independence.
A plasterer and asphalter by trade and non league player in West London, Robin Friday soon attracted the attention Reading manager Charlie Hurley when Hayes played Hurley’s Royals in an FA Cup tie, in which Robin played superbly. Friday eventually signed for the Division Four side in January 1974, aged 21.
What started then was a three year professional career, packed of incident, controversy and spectacular football in the archetypal live fast, die young story. Friday’s personality and free-wheeling lifestyle translated to his on the pitch performances, where in both he was carefree and unique. But despite his humble surroundings in the bottom tier of England’s professional game, Robin Friday was a supreme talent.
A tall and strong centre-forward, Friday had immense dribbling skills and fantastic technical ability which allowed him to assist and score some outrageous goals. One of which, a back to goal one movement flick-turn-shoot which rocketed into the roof of the net, was described by World Cup referee Clive Thomas as the best goal he’d ever seen. Friday’s talent transcended his surroundings and was once told by Reading manager Maurice Evans ‘If you would just settle down for three or four years, you could play for England.’. Friday’s response? ‘I'm half your age and I've lived twice your life’.
And that was typical Friday, he didn’t see things how others did and didn’t do what people expected. Whilst team mates arrived in suits and slicked hair for matches, Friday reported in jeans, a t-shirt, ruffled wild hair and a bottle of spirits in a plastic bag. But special players warrant special treatment, and Friday was certainly in that mould.
It was a near death experience aged 20, when Robin fell from a ladder and landed on a spike which nearly punctured his lung, which defined him. Coming so close to losing his life altogether, Robin’s reaction was to not lose one more moment of life and enjoy what he had. It helps to explain why Robin would always stay for one more drink, why he’d not have time for any bullshit and why, in the words of the Super Furry Animals, the man just didn’t give a fuck.
That immortalisation on the cover of the Welsh bands 1996 hit single, depicting Friday flicking a V-sign at Luton Town goalkeeper Milija Aleksic having rounded him and scored, served to help vote Friday as Cardiff City’s all time cult hero, despite only playing 21 games for the Bluebirds. He was engaging, brilliant, but loveable. It’s often lost amongst the stories of defecation in opponents kit bags and pulling down of shorts at corners that Robin was a generous, honest and genuine man.
It’s those qualities which had him signing autographs for hours, had him battling with defenders butchery without shin pads and never complaining , whilst defending from the front and tirelessly working on the pitch to win. There were times when Friday did leap over the line between hard-work and genius, into full blown lunacy and recklessness, but it was always through a desire to win and enjoy what he did, even if it eventually was to be his final undoing.
Friday scored 46 goals in 121 games for Reading, helping them to promotion to the Third Division in 1976. But a move away from the Royals to Cardiff and, more specifically, a move out from under the wing of manager Charlie Hurley, combined with increasing personal issues led to the decline of Robin Friday. Still capable when on the pitch, Robin began dabbling in drug use, as well as encountering marital difficulties and monitory issues.
It seems it was the ever increasing responsibility, strain and personal problems of Friday that underlay his undoing, having been quoted as saying he’d ‘had enough of people telling me what to do’. Robin was eventually found dead in his flat in Acton aged 38 having suffered a heart attack from a suspected heroin overdose. The escapism from responsibility offered by drugs, which started to become a problem whilst at Reading, led to a spiral of personal self-destruction ending in a short life lived very much to the full.
Whether he is labelled as a wasted talent, a flawed genius or a footballing madman, Robin Friday was most definitely one of the most brilliant footballers of his generation. Robin’s Cardiff debut against Fulham in January 1977, he was of course on the lash, dancing on tables the Friday before. But he turned up, started, nut-megged Bobby Moore twice before playfully squeezing his nuts and scoring two goals in a 3-0 win. And it is for memories like that, that we should really remember Robin Friday for.
You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
You can also purchase the excellent 'The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw: The Robin Friday Story' by clicking on the link in our books section.