In this second of two blogs, Stuart Kane (author of Man Friday: The First Half and Man Friday: The Second Half) reflects on a memorable day of celebrating Reading's footballing heritage. Catch up with part one, a visit to Reading Museum, and then kick off with part two below.
After visiting the COLLECTED exhibition, it was time for us to leave and head towards the Select Car Leasing Stadium for the Reading vs Cardiff City game: the Robin Friday derby.
Tony, Chloe, Teddy, and I met up with Robin’s daughter Arabella and her husband Adie and their children Libby and Louis. Arabella’s mum Liza is also here, too, to see her grandchildren present the match ball. It was fantastic to see them all, and I joked that I felt like a teacher on a school trip. Liza promptly formed a line and announced she should have brought her sandwiches! There are smiles all around. With tickets all sorted, we headed off to the West Stand.
The family are wonderful company and I am very sure that Robin would be very proud of them all. I consider myself lucky and honoured to be a part of the proceedings.
Before the game began, Arabella, Libby, Louis, and Teddy were presented with signed and framed shirts from Reading FC and Cardiff City. Robin Friday is given a round of applause. Libby and Louis wear Reading shirts with 'FRIDAY' emblazoned on the back and then present the match ball to the teams for kick-off.
The game kicks off. Things start well and Reading scores through Lucas Joāo in the seventh minute. Reading boss the game for the first forty minutes, but Cardiff start to assert themselves before the whistle for half time. In the second half, Cardiff begin to dictate play and go ahead through Doughty in the fifty-ninth minute, and then the killer blow comes in the eighty-fifth through Vaulks. That’s how it finishes: two-one to Cardiff City. Reading fans would have to wait a bit longer to confirm Championship survival, but it did eventually come.
After the game, we take a photo together and say our goodbyes.
As proceedings drew to an end, it became quickly clear that my Robin Friday adventure was not quite over yet. It seemed the footballing gods had not quite finished their day’s play.
Initially, I went for a meal with Brendan (Curator at Reading Museum) and his son Marcel, and then we walked towards Reading station. As we approached the entrance, I looked at the tall line of ticket barriers and wondered if Robin could’ve got past them without being detected. Unlikely, I suppose. Though as the chant went: Robin Friday walks on water. And if anyone could, it would be him.
I recounted to Brendan that the last time I had been in Reading to meet up with Arabella, Adie, and Liza to visit the museum, I had stopped for a quick drink at The Three Guineas before boarding my train. As I sat down with my drink, The Cure’s ‘It’s Friday I’m in Love’ began sounding out over the jukebox. Brendan said that it was serendipity. I agreed. I said goodbye to Brendan and Marcel and made my way through the barriers (with a ticket) and into the station.
I boarded the train and began to reflect on what had been a very memorable day. But this is where things go slightly left field, so please stay with me. And after all, left field was a place in which Robin could sometimes be found.
As the journey progressed, I read on my phone a letter to a fan written by former Reading FC manager Charlie Hurley (the coach that took the gamble and brought Robin Friday to the Club). In the letter, he talks about Robin Friday:
Robin Friday was one of the most skilful players I had seen throughout my career and one of the bravest. But he was as mad as a hatter. He was very likeable, but he had no control over himself. But if I had 11 players with his love of the game and the effort he put into his game you would have a winning team. Plus of course the same ability.Charlie Hurley, letter to a fan
The train trundles along as I sit thinking away. The train stops at Oxford, where Robin Friday played his very last game for Reading in December 1976.
People board the train: two people sit in the seats behind me, two in the seats in front. As they chat away, I recognise their accents, and they talk to each other over my head. I turn to the man behind me and say, ‘Do you lads want to swap seats with me, so you can chat?’
‘That’s very kind of you,’ says the tall man.
As we swap seats, I notice the scarf, unmistakably Sunderland. ‘Been to the game?’ I ask.
'Aye, Sunderland. We beat Oxford two-one. A bit of a scrappy game'.
‘You been to a game?’ asks the man.
‘Yeah, Reading vs Cardiff. Reading lost two-one'.
‘Are you a Reading fan then?’
‘No, I was there as a guest. The clubs were celebrating what would’ve been Robin Friday’s seventieth this year and the Club’s 150th anniversary'.
‘Are you a Friday?’
‘No,’ I reply.
‘What’s your connection with Robin Friday then?’
‘I’ve written two books about him called Man Friday'.
The tall man smiles and says, ‘I wrote Charlie Hurley’s biography'.
My eyes go wide, and my mouth drops open, ‘No way, that’s crazy. I read your book and really enjoyed it. In fact, it was part of my research, and it’s in my sources and acknowledgements'.
'My name’s Stuart Kane,’ I say, shaking hands.
‘My name’s Mark Metcalf.’ Mark then introduces me to his son, Charlie, named after Charlie Hurley: The Greatest Centre Half the World has Ever Seen.
We chat incessantly about Robin and Charlie and many football characters from the past. We talk about books, writing, trade unionism, and teaching. The journey from Oxford to Birmingham New Street is over in what seems like five minutes. Mark and I swap numbers.
As I leave the train, I wonder at the astronomical odds of such a meeting. My mind is blown.
There have been some bizarre occurrences on my journey with Robin Friday’s story but none more so than this one. There are coincidences, and then there are sometimes events that seem as if they are created by unseen hands or are just simply meant to be: this was one such occasion. I put it down to synchronicity: a sign that tells you that you are on the right path and to keep going.
This was a fabulous day with an unbelievable ending. I nod to the football gods and make my way home. There’s only one Robin Friday, shine on…