The recent consternation over excrement being used to write the words ‘We Hate Palace’ in the Crystal Palace changing room at the recent play-off match at the Amex stadium echoes some stories often told about the last-but-one match of maverick footballer Robin Friday, who played for Reading and Cardiff City.
Friday, the forward seen by some as one of the most gifted footballers of the 1970s, was involved in Reading’s epic League Cup 1st round tussle with Peter Taylor’s Brighton in August and September 1974. It stretched to three replays. Eventually, the Royals triumphed 3-2 at the Goldstone despite Ricky Marlowe hitting two goals for the Albion. In the Reading Evening Post, it was reported:
“When Murray’s shot hit the post, this time jubilant Robin Friday was there, sliding on his back to push it in the goal. When it was all over Friday lay stretched out on the turf…”
The performances of this colourful character helped Reading win promotion from the Fourth Division in 1975/76. In 1976/77, Reading made a great start to the campaign, reaching 3rd spot by early October, but began to falter and were eventually relegated. Friday played in Reading’s 3-1 home defeat to Alan Mullery’s Albion side in November 1976, with the Royals failing to make the most of their very good chances. As his dip in form and disciplinary problems continued, however, Friday joined Second Division Cardiff City in December 1976.
His star burned brightly at times at Cardiff but he suffered a mystery virus that laid him low for several months. His return match, his penultimate game for the Bluebirds, came against Brighton in October 1977. However, it was another Welshman who won the rave reviews. In the Daily Mirror:
Cardiff hit by Welsh wizard
Brighton 4-0 Cardiff
This was a case of a Welsh side torn apart by a Welsh international. Brighton’s Peter O’Sullivan scored twice and tormented a Cardiff team which looked to have big problems. To make things worse, Robin Friday, the striker Cardiff hoped would lift them on his return after a long illness, was sent off after 55 minutes. He clashed with Brighton’s Mark Lawrenson in midfield and got the red card from referee Alan Robinson after kicking out in retaliation. Alan Campbell, Cardiff’s most effective player, was booked for protesting. Said manager Alan Mullery: “Sully was brilliant – surely there is no midfield man in the country playing better.” Brighton’s other scorers were Peter Ward and Ian Mellor.
Friday had been sent off for kicking Mark Lawrenson in the face. From Bluebirds Banter:
Robin Friday was fed up. He’d been sent off after falling out with Brighton’s Mark Lawrenson at their old Goldstone Road ground in 1977 – and took it out on his own team-mates! They returned to the away dressing room after the final whistle and discovered that Friday had thrown all of their clothes, everything he could find, into the team bath.
“There had been quite a battle between Robin and Brighton’s Lawrenson,” said David Giles, who was in the Bluebirds squad. “I was on the bench and went on for Steve Grapes when we were 2-0 down in front of nearly 23,000 spectators.
“It all flared up just after half-time when Lawrenson tackled Robin and he didn’t like the challenge. So he kicked out and was sent off.
“We lost 4-0 and when we got back to the dressing room we knew Jimmy Andrews would have something to say. One of the lads went into the shower room to get out of the way and he shouted ‘Robin’s thrown all our clothes into the bath’.
“Brighton had a big plunge bath and all our gear was floating in it. We wrung our underwear out and had to put that on. The rest of our stuff was soaked and we borrowed tracksuits from Brighton to wear home.
“Robin got a club suspension for that.”
Legend also has it that Friday broke into Brighton’s dressing room and defecated in Mark Lawrenson’s bag! (See The Bleacher Report: Robin Friday.
Surprisngly, in Paolo Hewitt and Paul McGuigan’s book about Friday, ‘The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw,’ there is no mention of the incidents in the home dressing room and the away one.
Perhaps it’s because it didn’t happen. Roger Titford has put together a very wonderful 50-page photo-essay called ‘The Legend of Robin Friday’ which traces exactly how the legend of ‘the greatest footballer you never saw’ came about and where it’s turning into pure myth. Well worth the £3 price for the digital read. It says:
“It’s the mainly anti-hero charisma that drives the legend nowadays. Just as a terrorist of one generation becomes a politician of the next so today’s football world takes just the bits it wants from the legend of Robin Friday. This is where the legend takes its wings and flies into the world of myth, exaggeration and putting together incidents that happened separately. The thing with Bobby Moore – over in a moment. No, he didn’t kiss the policeman after the wonder goal, as it says on YouTube. And no, despite what it says on some punk football T-shirt website, he didn’t crap in Mark Lawrenson’s kit-bag after being sent off. Dishonourably, arguably out of character, he kicked the young Brighton centre-half in the face as he lay on the ground. No one then knew that Lawrenson would turn into an establishment BBC pundit of somewhat complacent and annoying nature – so maybe that’s what makes it ‘funny’ for some today.”
And yes, it mentions him doing a poo in the Mansfield bath but not in the Brighton bath in the game above.
Clearly, though, Mullery was not at all impressed with Friday:
“The foul by Friday was one of the worst I have ever seen. He kicked my player in the face when he was on the ground! How can you defend that sort of behaviour?”
But he was impressed by the performance of another Welsh Bluebird, Peter Sayer, who the Albion signed four months later. In April 1978, finishing fourth, Albion missed out on promotion out of Division Two by goal difference despite beating Blackpool on the last day of the season. The result relegated Blackpool, helping Cardiff to beat the drop by a single point.