The Maverick For Whom Everyday Was a Friday
Economically the 1970s were dire, the post-war dark age of blackouts, strikes, and the three-day week.
It was also the decade in which England relinquished its title of World Champions and then failed to qualify for the next two finals in ’74 & ’78.
At no time more so than in the ’70s, did 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon represent a reverie of anticipation, excitement & hope. Escapism in bleak circumstances for the masses that flocked to games. When football was thankfully very affordable to watch.
The Maverick Era
The ’70s was also the era of ‘The Maverick’. Google the word ‘maverick’ and its meaning and the first definition you get is an unorthodox or independent person.
George Best – the pioneer- Frank Worthington, Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles, and Tony Currie will spring to mind for fans of that generation. Talented footballers who played for fun and to entertain, even show off. The pitch was their stage upon which they acted up to the crowd, delighting them with their trickery and silky skills.
They weren’t in the game for the winning and the glory. If you were able to ask them now about the double six and the high press they’d quite likely look at you blankly and say ‘can’t we just play football?’
They lived with the same wild abandon as they played the game. A penchant for booze, women, nice clothes and cars, and at times outlandish shenanigans. Supporters, the romantics that they are, loved them for being as vulnerable and fragile as them, susceptible to the same vices. Their idols, the fans, identified with them and vice versa.
Complete Nut Job
Unorthodox, Independently minded, exceptional footballer. Add to that, the term ‘complete nut job’ and you get The Maverick that is missing so far. Regarded as ‘The Greatest Player You Never Saw’ by those who watched him because unlike the others he plied his trade mostly in the old fourth division (League Two). A time when the lower leagues didn’t get the TV exposure they do now. When there was no social media and no YouTube footage.
A standout unique character by nature and also by name – he was Robin Friday: the maverick for whom every day was a Friday.
Growing up Friday had many skirmishes with the law through petty theft, and fighting. Despite showing a forte for football which led to spells at QPR & Chelsea’s youth academies he also had a developing habit for a drink, drugs, and anything that spelt trouble. Eventually, he was summoned to a stretch in Feltham Prison.
It was there that his footballing ability shone through again so much so that Reading were able to have him released for trials and matches in their ‘Stiffs’. Unfortunately, his auditions with The Royals never came to fruition and upon his release from Prison, he drifted into Non-League.
At Walthamstow Robin played with a team made up mostly of Asphalters and consequently he took up the Trade too. He was as happy up on a roof as he was on a football field, putting in the hours and not so much the hard yards. A drink, a smoke, and perhaps a sniff, with just a bit of midweek training and a run out on a Saturday afternoon.
It was while working as an Asphalter that Friday fell from a roof, impaling himself on a spike, piercing his backside & stomach just missing his lung. Typical for the man who didn’t give a fig, he calmly pulled himself free and took himself off to A&E. Within 3 months he was back playing football.
Some may say that brush with death was the catalyst for the wild exploits that followed, a realisation that one never knows when their time is up. To get busy living, but no his ability to be a Rapscallion was innate.
His off-field pursuits were a colourful catalogue of unrestrained devilment.
The Elephant Dance
Inevitably he was banned from a Reading Nightclub after strutting onto the dance floor in a long overcoat & hobnail boots, removing the coat, and dancing naked bar his footwear. No doubt undeterred, Friday found a new venue where he would perform his own creation ‘ The Elephant Dance’. For those who are wondering what that was, he would turn out his pockets for ears and as for the trunk…. yes you’ve got it.
He also missed a whole pre-season for an excursion to Cornwall with a band of hippies to no doubt indulge in his vices.
On an away trip in his Cardiff days, the hotel residents were woken abruptly by the sound of him standing in the middle of the snooker table, in just his underpants, launching balls around the room in a drunken stupor.
On another trip, his Cardiff roommate David Giles recalled him ripping the TV off the wall and smuggling it out in his kitbag and onto the coach.
Whilst it would be breaking the rules, one could understand why a player might sneak a girl back to his room. Friday however, in his typical imbecilic style, opted for a swan instead.
Whilst at Reading he married his second wife Liza, a University Student. With his reputation obviously preceding him, Southern Television sensing an opportunity decided to film the wedding. Friday and his 200 guests didn’t disappoint, it was a riot. Excessive drinking, drug taking, and fighting followed by the theft of wedding presents, one of which was a box of cannabis, made for a hell-raising event. If you’re thinking Liza must have wondered what she’d married then you’d be wrong. She found the whole thing ‘hilarious’.
One could go on and on and a whole lot further, charting the hedonistic existence of drink drugs, infidelity, and the outright vandalism of the wanton train wreck that was Robin Friday and his off-field antics. However, his performances on it were just as remarkable and quite unbelievable when you consider his lifestyle.
Roy Of The Rovers
Friday rejoined Reading in the summer of ’74 after playing in the Isthmian League for Hayes, where he was best remembered for turning up for a game in the 80th minute. Already a man down and the score locked at 0-0 Friday was introduced to the fold. Obviously the worse for wear through drink, the opposition ignored the intoxicated striker which allowed him, unmarked, to score the winner. Royals manager Charlie Hurley decided Friday was worth a punt and tested the water by giving him a run in the reserves.
In training sessions he would regularly have to be removed for kicking lumps out of his teammates, putting some of them on the treatment table. Nevertheless, in the new year with the club languishing at the bottom end of the fourth division, Hurley took a leap of faith and promoted him to the first team. He needn’t have worried and probably wished he’d introduced him earlier on in the season. Robin’s debut, a 3-3 draw at Northampton, was described in the local press as ‘outstanding’ and a few weeks later he was given a professional contract which incidentally, put him on half the wages he earned as an Asphalter.
Friday was a revelation. His goals and contribution to the team catapulted them up the league finishing the campaign in 6th place. He was, it seemed, the complete player, with his goals, his assists, and his tackling (not afraid to slide in even on frozen pitches). He was physical, and he was certainly skillful. He would often go past players, wait for them to catch up, and then beat them again.
In the 75/76 season, he fired Reading to promotion to the 3rd Division netting an impressive 20 league goals. The fans worshipped him. He scored twice in a 4-1 win over Exeter City. A game in which he beat 4 players, after collecting the ball on the wing, and then drilled it home from the edge of the box.
Friday was impervious to the roughhouse tactics of defenders and never wore shin pads. Kicked from pillar to post, he still found the net, created for others, and won matches. At times it was Roy of the Rovers stuff.
Among the tap-ins, there were some stupendous goals. One of which, described by The Evening Post, read: “Friday received the ball near the edge of the penalty area at a tight angle and coolly kicked the ball with the outside of his boot across the goal towards the far post. Although it appeared to be heading yards wide of the net, the ball suddenly curved in at the last possible moment and clipped the goalpost before nestling in the back of the net”.
The Best Goal I’ve Ever Seen
One of the game’s top referees at that time was Clive Thomas. He’d officiated in the top flight and at the 74 and later the 78 World Cup. Yet ask him the best goal he’d ever seen and he would have harked back to a thunderbolt by a certain Robin Friday. The ball launched in his direction, Friday ran towards it, and in one complete motion, jumped, caught it on his chest, and swivelled with it still there and as it dropped, volleyed a screamer into the top corner. Everyone including the opposition, Thomas who was refereeing the game and a Policeman applauded. Friday kissed the Officer in celebration but later regretted it. “I hate coppers,” he said back in the dressing room.
The bewildered Thomas marveled, “I’ve seen Pele, George Best, and Johan Cryuff; this rates as the best goal I’ve ever seen. What are you doing playing at this level? I’ve never seen anyone score a goal like that”. Friday’s retort… ” You should come down here more often, I score goals like that all the time”
In two years at Reading Robin scored 55 goals in 135 games, won two player of the year awards, and helped the club to their first promotion in 50 years. However, he terrorised the town as well as defences. He was barred from virtually every hostelry in Reading. He drank, he fought (usually naked), he stole clothes, and train tickets whilst posing as a guard, and had a fondness for statues in cemeteries which he also pilfered. He took drugs in industrial quantities.
Hurley reached an agreement with him that he wouldn’t drink 48 hours before matches and even moved him into a residential area for pensioners near the ground in a further attempt to keep Robin in line. There he drove his neighbours to despair with Heavy Metal music, played at all hours of the day and night.
Despite his mercurial performances on the pitch, his teammates, Hurley and his coaching staff alike, probably ready to turn to drink themselves, had reached the end with Friday. A dip in his form during the 76/77 season as his wild lifestyle intensified, prompted the club to sell him, albeit against his wishes to Cardiff City for £28,000. The Blue Birds had seen an offer of £60,000 turned down in the previous off-season. They must have been delighted. If only they knew.
A Not So Fresh Start
He introduced himself to his new employers by requiring them to bail him from a Cardiff Police Station. This was due to his arrest for riding the train to Wales on just a Platform ticket. In fact, it was unlikely he ever paid full fare on his travels between England & Wales. Another of his stunts was to impersonate a guard by knocking on the toilet door and asking to see the occupants’ ticket. Quite often they would pass it under the door for inspection and the scoundrel that he was, Friday would disappear with it.
Any early reservations Cardiff had after getting him out of the local nick were temporarily forgotten.
On his debut against Fulham, in spite of being on the lash all night, he grabbed himself a brace, along with Bobby Moore’s testicles in a 3-0 win. After the match, a gushing Jimmy Andrews the Cardiff manager rang his counterpart at Reading singing the praises of his new signing. “You’ve only had him 4 days,” replied a doleful Charlie Hurley “wait until you’ve had him 4 months.”
Indeed The Bluebirds only got fleeting glances of his abilities on the pitch but true to form, plenty off it.
Players said he would disappear immediately after games, changing straight into his clothes, not even showering. Friday would go missing for days on end and could never be found at the Bristol address at which he was supposedly residing.
There was a time during a training session that he took a ball to the face. The teammate who was foolish enough to laugh ended up in a neck brace. Not to mention, although we already have, the TV theft and the incident with the snooker balls.
“The Man Don’t Give a F*ck”
Now & again fans would be reminded of the talent that he was. It was at Cardiff where the infamous picture was taken of him with his rock star hair and mutton chops, wheeling away after scoring. Friday flicked a two-fingered salute at a beleaguered Milija Aleksic who sat morosely on the muddy divot-strewn pitch. The same picture that appears on the cover of The Super Furry Animals “The Man Don’t Give a F*ck” – a fitting title albeit uncultured.
The game was only half an hour old and the pair of them had already been at it. Things came to a head after an over-exuberant challenge from Friday that nearly cut Aleksic in half.
After a stern lecture from the referee, he offered the unfortunate keeper his hand who refused to shake it. From the resulting free-kick, Friday nicked the ball off the dozing defender’s toe, rounded the goalie, and rolled it into the net.
The Greatest Player You Never Saw
Lifelong Bluebirds supporter and season ticket holder Philip Jones gave us an account that pretty much summed up the indifferent spell Friday had at Cardiff.
In Philip’s own words “Overall he was clearly talented but unreliable. Capable of flashes of brilliant play and a decent goal, but more often than not seemingly disinterested. Bizarrely appropriately for me as ‘The Greatest Player You Never Saw’ my greatest recollection of him is that he is largely responsible for me NEVER leaving a game early again!”
“April 1977 saw another season of grind and struggle for The Bluebirds in (the old) Division 2 coming to an end and a woefully poor performance against Wolves which saw them two up with 10 minutes to go and Robin Friday introduced from the bench. Unfortunately, my elder brother (and driver) had seen enough and I had the option of leaving early (for the first time ever) or walking home.”
“Robin reportedly ran Wolves ragged and Cardiff got two very late goals to grab an invaluable point. There was consternation at the roar of the crowd as the first one went in as we crossed the road outside the stadium and further frustration as it happened again as we got in the car.”
“So 2-2 for a Robin Friday inspired Cardiff, although I didn’t get to see the comeback. Robin bagged two himself in the next home game to help us to an invaluable win and with The Bluebirds staying up on goal difference it is probably fair to say that for all his faults he kept us up that season.”
The 77-78 season marked the beginning of the end but then it was always going to end in tears. Friday missed pre-season and the start of the new campaign. In fact, it was October before he put in an appearance.
Claims that he’d been suffering from a mystery illness then Hepatitis were unproven and it seemed that there was some underlying issue and that the Club were trying to keep it under wraps.
It was later discovered Friday’s absence was due to him being held at Her Majesty’s pleasure in Pentonville. His crime? Impersonating a Police Officer in Picadilly Circus. Challenging those he believed shared his habit, he confiscated their drugs for his own use if they were found in possession. His folly was to pick upon an Undercover Police Officer.
When he did eventually return to Cardiff, he left his calling card with Mark Lawrenson in what was his penultimate game for the club. Friday kicked Lawro in the face and received a red card to add to the 4-0 drubbing Brighton gave them.
Legend has it that he then broke into the Brighton dressing room and defecated in Lawrenson’s kit bag. Lawrenson denied it ever happened. No, what Robin did instead was throw all his own teammate’s clothes into the bath and as a consequence, they had to travel home in training kit borrowed from Brighton.
Andrews was incandescent with rage at a player who had been missing for so long to then get sent off.
Friday’s last game for Cardiff was a 6-3 defeat against Bolton. A few days later he went into Andrew’s office and announced, not only was he quitting but he was retiring from football. Cardiff didn’t stand in his way. He was 25.
The reality was he was never going to settle at Cardiff. When he was going AWOL it was to return to London. Visiting Family, friends & old haunts. He would also go back to Elm Park where he would ask them to buy him back. Even if they had the money it was doubtful they would have.
Reading fans on learning of his retirement drummed up a petition of 3000 signatures which they presented to the club, asking them to bring him home but to no avail.
Twice The Life For Twice The Price
Friday returned to Asphalting and continued with the drugs and the booze and racked up another two failed marriages.
He was found dead in his council flat as a result of a heart attack believed to have been triggered by a heroin overdose. He was 38.
In later years he was named as Reading’s Greatest ever player in a fan’s poll as well as their Cult hero.
“He’d had enough of people telling him what to do” was what he told Jimmy Andrews the day he quit football. Unorthodox, independently minded, a free spirit he did things his own way. Friday was a maverick.
“Better than Best” and “Could’ve played for England”, accolades he collected during his brief career. Who knows if he could have fulfilled them.
Friday once told Reading’s manager: Maurice Evans “I’m half your age and I’ve lived twice the life”.
He certainly did. Robin Friday’s undoing was that he lived everyday like it was Friday.