by Tom Stewart
Born: London, 27/7/52 (Died 22/12/90)
Clubs: Reading, Cardiff
Robin Friday was an enigmatic, volatile and flawed genius who has often been labelled as “the greatest player you never saw”. Unless you were a lower-league fan in England between 1974 and 1977, it’s unlikely that you did.
Friday grew up in Acton, London and showed brilliant footballing ability from a young age, attracting interest from a number of London sides. He joined Crystal Palace’s youth system aged 12, before moving to QPR and eventually, Chelsea. His lack of work ethic and refusal to change his style of play left coaches frustrated with Friday, and by 15 he was without a club. It was then that Friday began moving into a more ‘eccentric’ way of life.
He had become more interested in Girls, booze and going to gigs, he was even briefly into painting, showing outstanding ability, before losing interest. It was aged 15 that Friday began experimenting with drugs.
Friday trained as a plasterer (only lasting two months) and worked several other jobs, losing interest quickly. Friday’s laid back attitude and refusal to listen to authority was beginning to get him into trouble. In his fathers words “He didn’t care”. It was around this time that he began stealing, earning him a spell in Borstal.
It was during his 14 month spell that he started bulking out and he starred for the Borstal football team, gaining interest from a number of league clubs, including Reading, for whom he was allowed to train with.
After his release from prison, Friday quickly met Maxine Doughan, who he got pregnant and married (Friday was 17). The controversy surrounding this (Doughan was black) led to Friday being isolated by friends and family (his father refused to attend the wedding). Friday didn’t take his new responsibilities seriously, continuing to womanise, take drugs and drink heavily.
He started to play for a number of local amateur sides during this time, with much success, however his off-field antics were there for all to see. Whilst at Hayes, the team had to to start the game a player short because Friday had not turned up. He finally arrived 80 minutes into the game, clearly drunk, before scoring a late winner.
When Hayes played Reading in an FA Cup tie, then Reading manager, Charlie Hurley was impressed by the young Friday, and despite doing a large amount of research into Friday’s background, signed him for £750.
According to Hurley, Friday “trained how he played” and would injure many team mates in an effort to win. According to Reading Historian, David Downs: “In his very first training session they were playing a six-a-side game and Robin went around trying to kick as many of the established Reading players as he could. He must have put two or three out of the game. [Charlie] Hurley had to call him off …”
Friday scored on his league debut, against Barnsley in a 2-1 defeat. He soon became a hero amongst Reading fans due to his incredible technical ability. In a 4-1 win against Exeter City he “collected the ball wide on the left wing, took it past four Exeter defenders and then fired the ball low and hard into the opposite corner from the edge of the penalty area.”
He also refused to wear shin pads, despite often being hacked to pieces by the opposition. No matter how hard they fouled him, he just got on with it.
Despite his popularity with fans, he was at best ‘tolerated’ by his team mates as his off-field behaviour was beginning to catch up with him once more. His drinking was starting to get out of control and most pubs in the town had barred him- mostly for dancing on tables. One night, without anywhere to drink he turned up at Churchill’s- a nightclub. Wearing just an overcoat and boots, upon entering, Friday quickly took off the coat to reveal that he was completely naked underneath.
Churchill’s, nicknamed the “worst night club that has ever been in Reading” tolerated such behaviour, the upmarket Sindlesham Mill club did not. Here he introduced what he called “the elephant”. This involved turning his trouser pockets out and undoing his flies to reveal himself.
Friday would obey his managers orders to not drink within 48 hours of a game, however he would often stay up into the early hours playing heavy metal records and taking LSD.
Friday divorced Maxine in 1976 after a few years of separation, he quickly married Liza Deimel, and their wedding was broadcast on Southern Television. Friday, dressed in an open-necked tiger-skin-pattern shirt, brown velvet suit and snakeskin boots, sat on the steps of the church and rolled a joint. Most of the guests joined Friday in taking copious amount of drubs (mainly cannabis). Deimel described the event as “the most hilarious thing ever”
After promotion in 1976, Friday’s form began to slip. His drug use had become an increasingly large part of his life and Reading were beginning to run out of patience, and it wasn’t long before he was out of the club, joining Cardiff City for a cut price £28,000.
Upon arriving at Cardiff he was quickly arrested by British Transport Police for dodging his fare, and had to be bailed out by his new manager, Jimmy Andrews. On his debut he lined up against Bobby Moore’s Fulham, scoring two goals and squeezing Moore’s testicles.
However, the honeymoon period did not last long, Friday would often miss games and training. He would regularly leave a game and not be seen again for several weeks. Homesick, Friday would travel back to London regularly, dodging fares by knocked on occupied toilet doors pretending to be a ticket inspector, only to keep the ticket for himself
During a game against Luton Town in 1977, Friday clashed with Town keeper Milija Aleksic. Friday held his hand out to apologise, but Aleksic reacted angrily. After the restart, Friday was so enraged that he quickly dispossessed a Luton defender, before rounding Aleksic and slotting the ball into the empty net, he promptly flicked Aleksic the v-sign before strolling back to his half. That image has been used by City fans Super Furry Animals on an album cover.
When City travelled to Brighton, then Brighton defender Mark Lawrenson was marking Friday so tightly, that Friday decided to kick Lawrenson in the face, resulting in a sending off. Friday then broke into the Albion dressing room, and shat in Lawrenson’s kit bag.
His poor discipline was starting to infuriate Cardiff, and he was transfer listed. This angered Friday so much that he decided to retire from football. After this he moved back to London, working as a decorator. Reading manager Maurice Evans was presented with a petition, signed by 3,000 supporters, requesting that he attempt to re-sign Friday. Evans contacted Friday and told him: “If you would just settle down for three or four years, you could play for England.” Friday replied with the question “How old are you?”, and after Evans answered, continued: “I’m half your age and I’ve lived twice your life.”
Friday never played football again and died aged 38 in 1990 from a heart attack that was linked to a suspected heroin overdose.