Football is a whole skill to itself. A whole world. A whole universe to itself. Me love it because you have to be skilful to play it! Freedom! Football is freedom.” (Bob Marley – 1979)”
Bob played, watched and recorded. On every tour Bob Marley and the Wailers carried a football to play versus other musicians, players, journalists or just local people.
Bob was a midfielder who could always make overlapping runs. Because he tackled so hard, he probably would give up penalties if he played defense. On a big pitch, he was a very offensive-minded player, always looking for a chance to score.
It was actually a pre-requirement that Marley had access to make-shift football fields while on tour. He once decided not to do any interviews on a tour through Europe and when asked about it his response was, “If you want to get to know me, you will have to play football against me and the Wailers”.
An avid fan of the game, he followed the Brazilian club Santos devotedly, and had a deep admiration for Pele in particular. Marley surrounded himself with football people throughout his career, even making Alan “Skill” Cole, Jamaica’s most celebrated player, his tour manager for much of the 1970s. Cole had played in the North American Soccer League for the Atlanta Chiefs, and his presence no doubt helped integrate football into the day-to-day routines that comprised life on the road for the Wailers and their entourage. Marley, by all accounts, was always looking for an excuse to play, and told one journalist “If you want to get to know me, you will have to play football against me and the Wailers.”
The Rastafarian even took Jamaica’s greatest player of the 60s and 70s Allan Skilly Cole as part of the group’s touring entourage.
He (Skilly) was effectively known as Marley’s sporting advisor during tour matches-both had a great appreciation for football and Jamaica’s finest hand-rolled smoke.
Some reports indicate that if Marley didn’t make it as an international reggae artist, he was good enough to make it in professional football.
He grew up in Trench Town and played football in the streets with other kids from the neighbourhood; just like his heroes, (Abedi) Pele and Ossie Ardiles. His favourite team was Santos of Brazil.
He had a dream to open a Jamaican Football Academy with the help of Brazilian, Paulo Cesar, whom he had met while touring South America. It didn’t materialize with his sudden passing after the tour.
Bob Marley was the first third-world superstar. He gave hope to the thousands living in poverty and oppression and preached it through his music. He was shot and wounded in his own home fighting for the cause.
It is no wonder that those closest to him say that he was happiest when playing football.
But why this obsession with football?
It may be the same reasons we love it, whether it’s the skill, its symbolism to life, or the power of its political capabilities. Or maybe it was just his way of escaping into another world and not thinking but only for the moment. “Freedom, Football is Freedom”
In the late 1970s it was discovered that Bob Marley had a cancerous condition after his toe nail was ripped off during a football match in London. Though he did receive treatment, he refused to have the toe removed, a treatment that may have prolonged his life.
So when he [sang], ‘Dem a go tired fi see mi face / can’t get me out of the race / oh man you said I’m in your face’ on the ‘Bad Card’ track [from the Uprising album], he was really prophesying to the world. Football is very much a big part of Bob Marley’s life story. In fact, when [R&B singer-songwriter] Roberta Flack went to Bob’s funeral, she brought a football, which was placed in his casket.
Marley’s legend will only grow, and over time he will become more mythical, more iconic than human, but for those who wish to know something of the man, for those who wish to find a path into the heart that wrote One Love and Stir it Up and Redemption Song, there are some leads to follow, and one of them is without a doubt the game of football. Whether he saw in it the same power to bring people together that exists in music, or whether it was simply another form of expression, he made it a part of his life, a part of who he was as a human being.