by Noel Draper
Ask any football fan of a certain age what the game was like in the 70’s and you usually get the same responses. “It was a man’s game”, “A game for real men” or “Proper football”. Ask the same people again about the footballers who played then and you will get the same sort of response. “Real men” they will say. “Proper footballers” they will continue. Names such as Hunter, Bremner and Jordan will roll off their tongues and a small smile will form on their faces as they remember the good days. There is one name that will not be on anyone’s lips though, one name that has generally been forgotten mainly because this name kept most of his antics to after the game had finished. The name not on everyone’s lips? Robin Friday. That’s Friday. Like the day of the week. No? Let me enlighten you then.
There is a school of thought that Robin Friday was one of the most gifted players of his generation. “As good as Alan Shearer” as one ex manager put it. “On a par with Dean Saunders”, another said. He was blessed with skill, strength, was very fit and didn’t mind if he scored or set up a goal. He was also very competitive and would get angry with his team mates if they didn’t show the same level of commitment. He was also hardly injured. He sounds like an ideal player. A manager’s dream especially when an ex doctor of Cardiff City said that Robin Friday would have been good enough for England. Notice the word ‘Would’. The full quote is “would have been good enough for the England team if he had ‘sorted his head out’“. Here lies the rub my friends because for all of Robin’s undoubted skills and gifts he had a few, shall we say, off the pitch issues. Saying a few issues is a slight lie because Robin Friday played like a footballing God but lived the rest of his life like he was in ‘Trainspotting’ and was the lead singer of ‘KISS’. Both at the same time.
It is very easy when talking about a player like Robin Friday to concentrate on the minus points, so here goes, if only to get them out of the way.
After being told to cut down on his drinking Friday decided to replace alcohol with LSD.
A heavy drinker, Robin was banned from most of his first club Reading’s town centre pubs and clubs repeatedly. On one occasion Friday, who was in an all night club called Churchill’s wearing a long overcoat and big boots, calmly walked onto the dance floor, removed his coat and proceeded to dance naked until he was thrown out. He once walked into a hotel bar the team were staying in carrying a swan under his arm that he found in the hotel grounds. After scoring a last minute winner for Reading his goal celebration consisted of running up to the policeman behind the goal and kissing him because “he looked cold and fed up”. Once, marked by the great Bobby Moore in a game against Fulham, he scored two goals and managed to tickle Bobby’s testicles as well.
Whilst playing for Cardiff, Friday travelled back to London regularly on the train and to avoid paying the fare he used to knock on the toilet door whilst shouting “tickets please”. If the occupant passed him a ticket under the door Robin would take it and use it for himself. In a game for Cardiff against Brighton, Mark Lawrenson man marked him out of the game. Friday got a little frustrated with the attention he was receiving so kicked Lawrenson in the face. Legend has it that after being sent off he broke into the Brighton changing room and defecated into Lawrenson’s kitbag. He also did this in the Mansfield team bath. After losing a game against Shrewsbury, the hotel guests were woken during the night by a series of loud bangs. Further investigation revealed Robin Friday standing on the snooker table in his pants throwing snooker balls around the room. He didn’t like to lose. After being told to cut down on his drinking Friday decided to replace alcohol with LSD.
To be honest I could carry on with stories about Robin. He was that sort of footballer but that’s just it, he was a footballer. The supporters of both league clubs he played for, Cardiff and Reading, voted him “all-time cult hero” in a 2004 BBC poll. Not bad considering he only played 21 times for Cardiff. In 2007 he was voted Reading’s best ever player in a PFA poll. International referee Clive Thomas said a goal that Robin Friday scored against Tranmere was the best goal that he had ever seen in a game that he officiated. Better than anything Pele and Cruyff had scored. Praise indeed. He was Reading’s top scorer and player of the year two years in a row.
Friday retired in 1977 at the very young age of 25 and died of a heart attack at 38 years of age allegedly due to drug misuse. A very sad end to one of England’s finest ever footballers. As the title of his 1997 biography states, Robin Friday was the greatest footballer you never saw but I’ll add a little bit more, he was also the greatest footballer you have never heard of.