Robin Friday was an exceptional footballer who should have played for England. He never did.
Robin Friday was a brilliant player who could have played in the top flight. He never did. Why? Because Robin Friday was a man who would not bow down to anyone, who refused to take life seriously and who lived every moment as if it were his last. For anyone lucky enough to have seen him play, Robin Friday was up there with the greats. Take it from one who knows: ‘There is no doubt in my mind that if someone had taken a chance on him he would have set the top division alight,’ says the legendary Stan Bowles. ‘He could have gone right to the top, but he just went off the rails a bit.’ Loved and admired by everyone who saw him, Friday also had a dark side: troubled, strong-minded, reckless, he would end up destroying himself. Tragically, after years of alcohol and drug abuse, he died at the age of 38 without ever having fulfilled his potential.
This book provides the first full appreciation of a man too long forgotten by the world of football and will surely give him the cult status he deserves.
(Publisher: Mainstream Publishing. First published 1997. Paperback: 192 pages)
The first thing that struck me about this book is the title. In football terms it is a bit of a ‘game of two halves’. The main title, “…Glory, Goals & Greed…” has a tabloid feel about it, whilst the sub-title, “…Twenty Years of the Premier League…” is a factual statement.
In fact for me, this dichotomy is reflected in the pages of the book itself. Joe Lovejoy seems to have got caught between two very different styles within the publication. On the one hand there are the chapters which provide a ‘best of’, compilation view of the games and names from two decades of Premier League life and on the other a more serious journalistic view of the formation and changing face of football that the League has brought about.
The lighter side of the book gives the reader chapters such as ‘My Top 20 Matches’, ‘Ryan Giggs and Company’ (an assessment of the various Footballers of the Year from each Premier League season by the Welshman), ‘Managers Who Have Won the Premier League’ and ‘Twenty Headline Makers’. In my opinion these particular sections of the book don’t really provide anything new in terms of information or detail that most football fans don’t already know.
Where the book is for me more interesting is when Lovejoy dons his journalistic hat in interviewing key figures of the Premier League, both on and off the pitch and tackles some of the issues arising from the self-styled ‘best league in the world’. The players interviewed for their views of the Premier League years include Teddy Sheringham, Stan Collymore, Alan Shearer and off the field PFA Chairman Gordon Taylor; with their recollections afforded a chapter each.
The more factual, hard-hitting detail comes in the sections where the author explores the issues of foreign players, the financial situation of clubs and players agents. These parts of the book include research with key football administrators such as Rick Parry, Richard Scudamore and Sir Philip Carter. Included in these parts of the book are some startling statistics in relation to how things such as players’ wages, club spending and the number of foreign players has increased over the years. There is also an interesting chapter titled ‘The Mackem Model’ which focuses on the work that Sunderland FC does within the community. These to me are the most important areas of the book and for my part I would rather the publication been given over to more discussion and dissection of these issues than the lighter chapters. This for me is highlighted in the closing passage ‘Onwards and Upwards’, where the author takes the founding objectives of the Premier League and assesses whether they have been met in a couple of lines. I would have liked Lovejoy to expand on why he made those conclusions.
I believe the football reading public and market is mature enough to deal with a publication that investigates and probes what is happening in English football and what part the Premier League has played within it. This curate’s egg of a book unfortunately falls short.