Author Roger Titford looks at how a player who played in Division Three and Four came to be a legend in popular culture and football circles across the world in his latest book “The Legend of Robin Friday”
The Legend of Robin Friday – Roger Titford
Once upon a time if you played all or most of your career in Divisions Three and Four nobody would ever think of writing a book about you. Not glamorous enough, not proper ‘senior’ football.
Then in the 1970s and 1980s a strain of more fan-centred, more inclusive football writing emerged, enthusiastically embracing the true grit as well as the limited glory of lower division football.
Players themselves got in the act – David McVay (Notts Co) and Gary Nelson (Plymouth) come to mind with their memoirs while fanzines celebrated the deeds and misdeeds of strictly local heroes like Bobby Campbell (Bradford City).
But the man, the career, the name that defined this genre was Reading’s Robin Friday, re-branded in print by Paul McGuigan (Oasis) and Paolo Hewitt as ‘The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw’. On the back of around 150 games for the Biscuitmen (as they were) and 25 for Cardiff City between 1974-77 an international legend was spawned. Friday died in 1990 at the age of 38 after years of drug use but his name lives on as the patron saint of bad boy lower division footballers.
A generation later people who never saw him play write songs, design T shirts or release YouTube videos in foreign languages about him. A Hollywood film script of his life even exists.
The evolution of this legend is as strange a story as Friday’s own career. I did see Robin play most of his games for Reading including his inspiring role in the club’s first promotion for 50 years.
And I watched and noted how his fame grew after his death embroidered by some exaggeration and falsehood and obliterating the memory of a talented footballer beneath a media fantasy.
And so I wrote The Legend of Robin Friday. It’s a slim volume dedicated to answering the questions: by what means did this amazing legend emerge? How true are the claims made? What does it tell us about modern football that so many people now were interested in Robin and celebrated him in so many different ways? And, given there is almost no TV footage, what was he like to look at as a player? The text is liberally sprinkled with action shots from Friday’s days upfront with Reading and Cardiff.
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