Bob Marley on the ball

Bob Marley & Football

Bob Marley

Having just watched the engrossing documentary, Marley, it is worth remembering how much the beautiful game meant to the legendary reggae singer and cultural figure.

Despite hailing from the cricket-loving Jamaica, Bob Marley played football almost as much as he played music and was never far from a ball and a kickabout with his friends.

Bob Marley

When he took over the mansion of 56, Hope Road in the Jamaican capital Kingston, an exclusive street which was home to the Prime Minister and other dignitaries, he converted the large front yard into a football field, nicknamed 'the stadium', where he would play on a daily basis.

Many photos remain of the Rastafarian icon with a football, including ones of him in Battersea Park, London, his home in the mid 1970's. Although a famous Pan-Africanist, his father was actually a white Jamaican of English stock with his roots in Sussex.

Coming from Jamaica to England was thus in a sense returning to half of his roots, as well as to the homeland of the sport he loved so much.

Football is whole universe to itself

"Football is whole universe to itself," Marley explained. "I love it because you have to be skilful to play it, you know. When we play football, we're playing music."

When asked why he said of football, "I need it", he replied simply, "freedom - because football is freedom."

Tragically, the global phenomenon that was Bob Marley came to an end in 1981, when he fell ill with malignant melanoma. Flying home to Jamaica after unsuccessful cancer treatment in Germany, Marley died in Miami, aged only 36.

The loss to Jamaica, reggae, black identity and the world was immense, though his message of love and music of happiness remains, in football as elsewhere.

What a shame he did not live to see Jamaica reach their first ever World Cup, at France 1998.

No doubt had he lived, Bob would have been there in person to serenade the Reggae Boyz' finest hour as they won their first ever finals match, against Japan.

-Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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