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Listening to Bob Marley has been the theme at the monthlong Africa Unite celebration of Marley's 60th birthday in
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)
Marley's connections with football have been well-documented. He played as a midfielder, usually on the left (insert joke here), 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.We would welcome a correction, but it appears that Marley never
Africa Unite featured cinema, art, seminars and, of course, music . . . but not football.
Bono refers to Marley's wife, Rita Marley, who headed the celebrations in Ethiopia. Asking "how can you give up a continent for an island?" Rita Marley has emphasized the lure of Africa to her husband, even suggesting that his body be relocated to Shashemene, where former Ethiopian emperor and Rasta deity Haile Selassie donated property for a Rastafarian settlement. Reggae and the Rastas, according to various researchers, were looked down upon among the authorities in Jamaica. Marley was born poor in Nine Miles and grew up in a slum in west Kingston, Trenchtown, a housing estate constructed after a 1951 hurricane. According to the Guardian's Gary Younge ("Bad Vibes as Tug-of-Love Hits Marley Anniversary," 5 February), Marley was far from celebrated at home during much of his life. He survived an assassination attempt in 1976. His legend on the island has been primarily a posthumous phenomenon, encouraged by the embrace in which the world holds Marley's songs.And Marley no doubt would be pleased at another comeback: that of the Ethiopian
Tadele Tessema, son of Yidnekatchew Tessema, who joined St. George FC at 14.
Our lingering image is that of the football-obsessed Marley, as recounted by record-company publicist Rob Partridge, during a string of rehearsals and interviews in the UK in 1978. A World Cup match came on television. "He sat down in front of the TV and after 10 minutes it was obvious he wasn't going to move," says Partridge. "That was the end of it."
Addendum: Footballers, too, often have affection for Marley. As an example, consider Ezra Hendrickson of new Major League Soccer side Chivas USA. During his days with the Los Angeles Galaxy, the native of St. Vincent and the Grenadines wore a Bob Marley T-shirt underneath his jersey. Of his adjustment to Chivas, Hendrickson said, "I brought four Marley CDs with me and we listen to them all in the locker room" (Paul Gutierrez, "Hendrickson Welcomed Home with New Team," Los Angeles Times, 27 February 2005). | back to top