Middlesbrough had just completed their third consecutive season in the Championship and were looking to strengthen heading into the 2012/13 campaign.
Tony Mowbray’s men were coming off a seventh-place finish, just five points outside the play-off places.
The club knew if they were to go one step better and make a return to the Premier League at the fourth attempt, they would need to bolster their side with players who would be capable of doing so.
On July 30, 2012, Mowbray had snapped up one of League One’s brightest stars in a bid to strengthen his backline by adding George Friend to the squad.
Defender George Friend has completed his move to Boro for an undisclosed fee. The 24-year-old has signed a three-year contract.
— Middlesbrough FC (@Boro) July 30, 2012
Despite last-minute interest from Ipswich Town and Nottingham Forest, Boro were able to get a deal over the line a week later as the Doncaster Rovers campaign moved even further north and signed a three-year contract at the Riverside.
The initial reaction to the left-back’s arrival was reasonably favourable despite it being a move that went mostly under the radar.
We'll get by with a little help from George Friend.
— Andrew Glover (@andrew_glover) July 30, 2012
@BoroFCOfficial Ohhh Friend. Frieeennd.
— Alex Hardy (@alexhardy1987) July 30, 2012
Glad Boro finally signed George Friend be useful addition can play centre back & competition for Left Back spot with Joe Bennett. #UTB
— Claire Bowdler (@cbstar82) July 30, 2012
It was an impressive signing as he had won Rovers’ player of the year and players’ player of the year at the Keepmoat Stadium in 2011/12 – his final season with the club.
The then 24-year-old made an impressive 39 appearances during his debut year with the northeast side as they finished in a lowly 16th place.
After completing a successful season, in which Friend became a fans’ favourite because of his consistent performances, he was awarded the Community player of the year after attending numerous off-field events, as well as winning the players’ player of the year award.
The following season he was handed the number three shirt and upped his appearance numbers, managing 43 games in a year the club would again finish mid-table once again.
Friend did, however, manage to score three times, getting his first goal for the club – and first for anyone since 2010 – in the 2-2 draw away at Wigan on August 25, 2013.
Heading into his third season now, and the Riverside favourite helped his side finish 4th in the 2014/15 campaign as he once again was a mainstay in the Boro side.
Middlesborough made the play-off final but fell to defeat to Norwich at Wembley.
Friend’s option of a further year was invoked, and he continued to ply his trade in the northeast.
It was a memorable year for the defender who captained Boro for the first time in April as he once again showed why he was one of the firmest of fans’ favourites in recent years.
The play-off heartbreak spurred Friend and Boro on as they finished second in the 2015/16 campaign and he again made 40-plus appearances.
And having won promotion to the Premier League, there was even more positive news for the club and the defender.
On August 13, 2016, Friend signed a new deal with the club running until 2020.
— Middlesbrough FC (@Boro) August 13, 2016
And to say the Boro faithful were happy about it was an understatement.
Yesss!!! Happy Days! ???? #UTB
— GillyG (@gillyboro) August 13, 2016
YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS GORGEOUS GEORGE!!!! ????????????
— azy (@azymanzur) August 13, 2016
— Georgia Wallace (@georgiaw147) August 13, 2016
Gorgeous George! Didn't think I could love a man to this extent. #UTB
— BoroFPL (@BoroFPL) August 13, 2016
Boro were relegated after one season despite Friend being a rock-solid performer throughout, making 24 appearances in the top flight.
The now Middlesbrough captain was leading his side to try and move back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, but a two-legged play-off defeat in the 2017/18 campaign saw that plan go out the window.
This year, Boro have started well and with Friend in their side have a real chance of making it back to the top-flight at the second time of asking.
Having made over 200 appearances in six years at the Riverside, Friend has been a solid performer for the club and is now classed as a Boro stalwart.
The reaction to the signing was positive but somewhat mediocre but what has happened since had proved everyone wrong and shown that the addition of Friend was inspired after his long, successful stint so far at the Riverside.