Robin Friday: all hail the greatest player you never saw

The ex-Reading striker will forever live on in Royal folklore after blowing his talent on drugs, drink and living it up in the lower divisions. FFT recalls his colourful ascent... 

In December 1990, a west London newspaper reported the unremarkable story of a man being found dead in his flat. The cause of death was not known – the body was too decayed for it be discovered.

It seemed like just another sad footnote in the lonely life of the suburbs. But what the paper failed to remark on was that the man in question was one of the most remarkable players ever to set foot on a British football field.

He had the kind of skill that his opponents had no idea how to deal with. And he combined that with a cheek that boarded on madness

League of his own

Robin Friday made his league debut in January 1974, playing for Reading in a Fourth Division game against Northampton Town. He was 21 years old and poised to become the greatest player Reading had ever seen.

Six feet tall, lanky and awkward, he wasn’t the kind of man who instantly appeared to be in the George Best class, but he was. He had the kind of skill that his opponents had no idea how to deal with. And he combined that with a cheek that boarded on madness.

Friday played 135 games for Reading, scoring 53 goals, many of which defied belief. He was the master of the 30-yard thunderbolt, the mazy dribble through a packed defence and the flicks and tricks that sent opponents reeling the wrong way.

Nor were team-mates safe from his on-pitch trickery. In one game, the Reading centre-back persisted in hanging around the opposition penalty box in the hope of getting on the scoresheet; Friday was having none of it.

“Come here again and I’ll pull your shorts down,” he sneered. His colleague laughed the threat off and trundled back up towards the box. Furious, Friday intercepted him, and whipped down his shorts… as he leapt for a header.

Off-pitch antics

He grasped Bobby Moore’s testicles and gave them a mighty squeeze, enraging the former England skipper to such a degree that he spent the rest of the game trying to kick lumps out of the elusive Friday

But a player that good would end up at the top, surely? Not if he’s too good to be true. Friday was pursued by rumours about his off-pitch behaviour. Stories of spliff-smoking, pill-popping and pre-match drinking surrounded him.

No one at Reading cared so long as he continued to turn it on every Saturday afternoon, but they were the kind of stories that prevented the big clubs doing more than idly circling him.

When Friday did eventually leave Reading in December 1976, it wasn’t to journey to Old Trafford or Anfield but to Ninian Park, home of the mighty Cardiff City, for just £25,000.

There, on his debut against Fulham, he gave Bobby Moore the sort of treatment that the great man definitely wasn’t accustomed to – he grasped Moore’s testicles and gave them a mighty squeeze, enraging the former England skipper to such a degree that he spent the rest of the game trying to kick lumps out of the elusive Friday.

But during the year Friday was at Cardiff he become more and more erratic. He played just 25 games, scoring seven times, and started to go missing for weeks at a time. He was always welcomed back (everyone knew what he was capable of) but in December 1977 he decided he’d had enough and left football, still a relative unknown.

Friday did, though, slip back into the collective consciousness in 1995, when Super Furry Animals released a single with him on the cover, flicking a V. The name of the record? It couldn’t have been more appropriate: The Man Don’t Give A F**k.

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