2018 marks 37 years since the death of legendary reggae pioneer, Bob Marley. Gone too soon at the age of 36. Known as one of the most prolific songwriters of all-time, Marley’s art lives on forever. You can certainly make the argument that his music was perhaps ahead of its time, as many of his songs and messages ring truer today than ever before (enter: “One Love,” “Get Up, Stand Up,” “Three Little Birds,”).
Marley was a unique and passionate individual who cared deeply about his Jamaican roots and culture. Though he expressed himself and thrived through the power of music, his other passion in life was soccer. In Kevin MacDonald’s 2012 brilliant documentary, Marley, we get a glimpse into the behind the scenes life of Marley. One thing you will notice is just how often a soccer ball is visible. In fact, Marley’s tour manager throughout the 1970’s was one of Jamaica’s most renowned soccer players in Alan “Skill” Cole.
In addition to constantly playing the sport, Marley was also a die-hard fan listing the Brazilian club Santos as his favorite team and Pele, Edson Arantes do Nascimento and Ossie Ardiles as his favorite players. Later in Marley’s career he would request for certain interviewers to accompany him in playing soccer as that would give them the opportunity to truly get to know him. It would also allow Marley to be in his comfort zone, resulting in a more free and casual connection.
Many friends and soccer acquaintances considered Marley’s game to be on a professional level. Carl Brown, is a prominent figure in Jamaica’s soccer history books, having led the Boys’ Town team from 1970–1980. Brown would go on to take the Jamaican national team to a third place finish in 1993’s National Cup. Brown witnessed Marley on the field firsthand. In an interview with Bob Marley Magazine, Brown describes Marley’s passion for the game by saying, “I remember Bob would play at Boys’ Town from eight in the morning right back to three o’clock. Playing for Boys’ Town is the wish of every young boy growing up in Trench Town. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t figure out which Bob loved more, music or football.”
Brown would ultimately provide Marley with one of his greatest thrills, giving him the opportunity to play at Kingston’s National Stadium. “We allowed him to fulfill one of his greatest wishes by playing him in the game when he was invited to play with the team in National Stadium. He was so excited. I have never seen him look happier.” A statue of Marley now graces the stadium entrance.
One the road, one of Marley’s only tour request was to have a TV on his tour bus so he could watch soccer games. He often played, even practicing by himself, before concerts to relax, loosen up and free his mind.
It’s been widely stated that a soccer injury is connected to Marley’s eventual death as a type of malignant melanoma was first found under the nail of his toe. Though it appears to be an urban legend, Marley not wanting to significantly impact his soccer abilities did play into his decision to not amputate his toe.
Present day, we find Marley’s kids are also active soccer fans and players. His daughter Cedella, made headlines in 2014 as she led the charge to make the Women’s Jamaican Soccer Team the first female Caribbean club to play in the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Her purpose was to stress the importance of soccer being a game for girls to play, and not just watch. The crowd-fund campaign featured a song entitled “Strike Hard,” which she and her brothers, Damian and Stephen Marley, recorded.
Successful in their campaign, the Jamaican National Women’s Football team, or the Reggae Girlz, as they were often called, lost to Mexico in the qualifying rounds. Though they did not make it all the way to the World Cup, they raised enough money to get to Washington DC for the preliminary round. As a result, Jamaica had moved up 40 spots in FIFA’s world rankings, from 75th to 34th, in just nine games and just six months of being a team. The Reggae Girlz are now training for the 2016 Olympics qualifiers.
It is evident that soccer remains a significant part of Bob Marley’s legacy in addition to his music. As we reminisce and celebrate Marley today (and everyday) by playing his music, it is inspiring to see his two worlds continue to collide in an effort to make positive cultural strides.
One Love? Perhaps more like Two Loves.
“Football is freedom” — Bob Marley
Cedella, Damian & Stephen Marley, “Strike Back”
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