When I was first asked by a football magazine FourFourTwo to nominate Reading FC's biggest cult hero, my immediate thoughts went straight to Robin Friday. Yet as I walked up to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday I began to rethink my answer. After all Robin left the club 40 years ago and the number of Reading fans who can legitimately claimed to have seen him play is rapidly dwindling. So in those intervening years has a new man risen up to take the place of Friday atop our cult tree? Here's our list of possible candidates and I'll put forward whoever comes out on top in our poll.
First, here's the description the magazine gave us to define our cult hero.
'Your cult hero doesn't have to be the best player who played for your club (though he might be) - just one who touched fans' hearts more than any other, and was deeply popular.'
Let's start with the obvious one and what I'm guessing will be the front runner here, Robin Friday. Robin may have only spent just over two years with the football club in the mid-seventies but his cult status has only grown as the years have gone by. Arriving from non-league with Reading languishing in the bottom tier, the forward smashed home 53 goals in 135 games, earning Player of the Season honours twice and helping us win promotion to Division Three in 1975/76.
He's been described as having the most natural ability of any player to walk into the football club and his goal against Tranmere frequently gets mentioned as the best goal ever scored at Elm Park.
Yet it was his off-field antics which has helped his name be passed down through generations of Reading fans. Friday drank, smoked and joked his way into the hearts of fans who would frequently see him in the Spread Eagle next to Elm Park even on a matchday! He was the total opposite of the modern day footballer and his antics with Mark Lawrenson's kitbag are worthy of an overused word legendary.
Sadly as with so many who lived such a wild life, both his football career and his life were to end far too soon. He's since had a book written on him with a feature film also in the works.
The problems I have with Friday is that in an era with little TV coverage and Reading being in the bottom tier, just how good was he? More to the point should we idolise a man whose off-field habits aren't exactly something you'd want to teach your kids in 2016? Or do both of those points only make him that bit more of a cult hero?
So how can anyone compete with such antics? Well I thought I'd throw the name of a man who still gets his name sung by the East Stand 14 years after he left Reading, Phil Parkinson.
While Friday had a brief but spectacular spell in Berkshire, Parkinson spent more than a decade at the football club as a steady driving force through some testing times. Signed in 1992 from Bury, Parkinson went on to make close to 400 appearances for Reading helping the club to two promotions and two play-off finals. When the club was going through a tough time in the late 90's and early 00's, Parkinson captained the team with pride and was one of the few whose commitment you could never question.
He was never the most graceful midfielder but his ability to put in a crunching tackle or set of a move with a decent pass saw him become a key cog in a number of Reading teams and he did pop up with the odd great goal like against Wolves in a 1997 League Cup tie.
Throw in a couple of POTS wins in 1999 & 2000, playing with a face mask in 1994 and being a generally lovely bloke and you can see why 20,000+ turned out for his testimonial in 2002.
I'm going to throw a rogue one in here because this man is the closest we've had to being a real maverick in decades. Kebe was a low key signing during our relegation from the Premier League but his six years here were full of some truly amazing moments on and off the field.
Chief among them were a series of terrific solo goals. Preston away in 2009, West Brom in the Cup in 2010, Leicester in the League in 2011 - All magical.
Then there was the moments that helped him earn 'he'll do what he wants' as a chant. The sight of Kebe pulling his socks up against West Ham in the 2011/12 season was Friday-esque. Even on social media Kebe knew how to wind up the world. Remember that transfer window when Newcastle were seemingly snapping up every Frenchman who could kick a ball? Kebe trolled the world into thinking he'd be joining them up in the North East.
Importantly, Kebe knew how to excite the fans, to get them talking and to believe that at any moment something wonderful could happen.
There's plenty of other players I could make good cases for here but I'm ill on my sofa and neither you nor I want to go through another couple of thousand words here! However consideration should be given to the man who also spent a decade at the Mad Stad and captained our greatest ever side Graeme Murty. Likewise you could easily make a case for
The Secret Footballer Dave Kitson who wasn't afraid to share his views with the world or do things his way. Michael Gilkes thrilled the South Bank for more than a decade or what aout the likes of Trevor Senior or Martin Hicks? Maybe it's not even a player, maybe Sir John Madejski deserves a nod for saving the club, while being a wacky eccentric bloke who crashes awards ceremonies or appears smashed in the Purple Turtle with fans and the manager. There's many, many more that I'm sure I've missed but we're after the top one here, not the top ten.
Ultimately I'll leave it up to you to decide who I put forward so please vote in our poll and why not leave a supporting argument in the comments section below?
Likewise FourFourTwo have also asked me to put forward my Top Five Championship Players so if you've got some thoughts on that, please do let us know.