Robin Friday - Flawed Genius

Last updated : 10 February 2006 By Richard Turrell

Robin Friday

Reading 1974-1976

135 Appearances

53 goals

Reading FC’s ‘Player of the Millennium’ was born in Hammersmith, London, on July 27th 1952. With a ball at his feet Robin Friday was blessed with the kind of precocious talent most of us can only dream about, but he was also cursed with a wild streak that made his exploits the stuff of legend. He smoked and drank to excess, would regularly start fights with both opponents and teammates, and was once sent off for kicking Mark Lawrenson in the face (when he should have been awarded an MBE).

He was signed for the Royals by Charlie Hurley after turning out against them for non-league Hayes in an FA Cup tie, and scored twice on his home debut in a 4-1 win over Exeter City on February 10th 1974. Despite his volatile nature the fans immediately took him to their hearts, he was crowned ‘Player of the Year’ in his first full season at the club (1974/75) and went on to make 135 first team appearances, scoring 53 goals and creating many more with his unorthodox, unpredictable playing style. His goals and creativity helped Reading win promotion to the old Division Three but then, despite being only 24 and one of the key players in the team, he was transferred to Cardiff City for a knockdown price of £30,000.

When then-Cardiff manager Jimmy Andrews asked why the price was so low he was told, “You’ll see”. And see he did, as Friday was arrested at Cardiff Central station within minutes of arriving in the Welsh capital for fare dodging. The night before his debut for the Bluebirds against Fulham he went on a pub crawl before taking a dozen bottles of lager back to his hotel. He still scored twice against a defence featuring Bobby Moore, and went on to play a further 20 games for the Welsh side, scoring 6 goals and delighting crowds with his awesome array of tricks, before leaving he started going AWOL for days on end with a ‘mystery illness’. It was the beginning of the end for the wayward genius. His overall behaviour worsened and became, in the words of Wales legend and Cardiff skipper Phil Dwyer, “Very volatile”. It had been common knowledge within the game that Friday was developing a drink problem, and was also fond of indulging in LSD and other mind-altering substances. Afterwards Jimmy Andrews said, “At the time I didn’t know what his major problem was so I bought him... For a period I handled it but I’m afraid Robin was a hopeless case. He was lost and by the end he was uncontrollable”.

The situation proved intolerable, his contract at Cardiff was cancelled and Friday moved back home to London where his life descended into a private hell of alcoholism, drug abuse and mental problems. He died of a heart attack on the 22nd December 1990 at just 38. Unpredictable as ever, he died on a Saturday. As a fitting tribute the cover of the 1996 Super Furry Animals single ‘The Man Don’t Give a Fuck’ (also named after him, naturally) featured a classic archive photograph of Friday scoring a goal for Cardiff, while showing two fingers to the despairing opposition goalkeeper.

There is also a book about Friday’s life available written by ex-Oasis bass player Paul McGuigan and Paolo Hewitt, “The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw”.