Jamaica | Spreading Ja love from the left wing

Ali G, the edgy hip-hop persona of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, offers this rhyme:

I am Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Put down your gun

and listen to Bob Marley.

Kate Simon spent several years taking pictures of Marley: “You had to prove you were worthy of his time.” (© Kate Simon)

Listening to Bob Marley has been the theme at the monthlong Africa Unite celebration of Marley’s 60th birthday in Addis Ababa. We are disappointed, but not surprised, that organizers canceled a match scheduled between the Ethiopian national team and world all-stars on Feb 9.

Fixture congestion has become serious with league, cup, Champions League, international matches and, earlier this week, with the Football for Hope match for tsunami relief.

Marley’s connections with football have been well-documented. He played as a midfielder, usually on the left, and seems often to have engaged journalists through football. Paul Alessandrini, for example, a French journalist, tells Marco Virgona of bobmarleymagazine.com that he had once tried to interview Marley after a show in Amsterdam, but did not have success until proposing a soccer match.

I proposed to play soccer during his next visit in Paris [May 1977]. The interview was published in Rock & Folk magazine. In 1992, when I visited Hope Road in Kingston, that cover (and my interview) was hung on the wall of [Marley's] house. We played soccer on a synthetic ground next to Hilton Hotel in Paris and the Tour Eiffel. There were the Wailers, four or five rock critics and a team with actors, artists and Francis Borrel, at that time the president of Paris St. Germain. We won 4–0. I saw Bob again in 1980 in Kingston. … We again played soccer in the yard. He said: “Football is music.”

The May 1977 match in Paris, if accounts are accurate, is significant for another reason. Before halftime Marley had to leave with a recurring injury to his toe. The toe problem continued to nag him and, disregarding advice from doctors, Marley declined treatment. (Other accounts have Marley injuring his toe during another game in Britain, also in 1977.) He continued to play football, however, and made a much-celebrated trip to Brazil in March 1980 (Leo Vidigal, “Bob Marley in Brazil,” rootzreggae.com).

The visit was to help launch a record label. Marley did not perform but played football at the home of Brazilian music legend and writer Chico Buarque. Marley received a Pelé Santos jersey and led an attacking side that won 3–0. “Rivelino, Jairzinho, Pelé … Brazil is my team,” Marley said. “Jamaica likes soccer because of Brazil.”

It is not known when Marley last played football. What turned out to be cancerous growth in his foot spread to his lungs and brain. Marley died in Miami on 11 May 1981, sometimes watching football tapes with friends during the illness. He was 36 when he died.

Official site of Africa Unite at the Bob Marley Foundation Africa Unite featured cinema, art, seminars and, of course, music … but not football.

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