The Legacy Of The Skipper: Bob Marley’s Love Of Soccer

On the 35th anniversary of the death of Bob Marley, one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time with over 75 million records sold, and an international symbol of resistance to oppression, religious dedication, and peace, its hard to reconcile a Snapchat filter where you can adopt his face as your own on 4/20, a day that is dubbed Weed Day, as part of his legacy.

As the last song in his final show on stage, he performed “Get Up, Stand Up,” on September 23rd, 1980, at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He played from a stool. Cancer had spread to his brain, but he performed a 20-song set.

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He collapsed and died soon after the show. He had written the song as a call to action against oppression, after leaving Haiti, and being moved by the spirit of the people and the poverty that he witnessed.

Although, he has become an iconic symbol for peace, many of his songs were far more critical of oppressors and what he believed would be their ultimate retribution. His message resonated with people from all walks of life. The CIA kept a close watch on him in the last years of his life and files on him remained classified.

“One Love,” is an interpretation of The Impressions’ “People Get ReadyThere ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner/Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own, believe me now/have pity on those whose chances grow thinner.

Curtis Mayfield was credited as a co-author with Marley when it was released on the Exodus album in 1977.

In writing I Shot the Sherriff, Marley said: “I want to say, ‘I shot the police’ but the government would have made a fuss, so I said, ‘I shot the sherriff’ instead…but it’s the same idea: justice.'”

When Prime Minister Michael Manley asked the Wailers to perform at a concert in December of 1976, Marley agreed, despite political turmoil. Prime Minister Manleys Peoples National Party, affiliated with the socialism of Cuba and Russia, and the Jamaican Labour Party, headed by Edward Seaga, allegedly supported by Americas CIA, were scrambling to get an endorsement from Marley, but he remained impartial.

On December 3rd, 1976, an assassination attempt was made at his home where Marley was shot in the arm and below the heart. His wife Rita was shot in the back of the head and his manager, Don Taylor, was shot five times. They all survived.

On December 5th, despite their injuries, they all performed at the concert and performed the song War with fiery rebellion. The songs lyrics were taken from a speech by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, who spoke to the U.N. in 1963 about disarming nuclear weapons and ending the international exploitation of Africa.

He became one of the most prolific musicians of our generation and fathered at least seven children. But less is known about his obsession with soccer, a game he played from sunup to sundown in the dirt of the government yards in Trenchtown. There were no soccer fields to play in poor areas. He played so much that his mother would beat him because he would ruin his shoes playing.

Marley was known by many names, including Tuff Gong, Donald Marley and he recorded his early single, “One Cup of Coffee,” under the pseudonym Bobby Martell. But only his closest friends knew him by the name of “Skipper.”

His soccer teammates referred to him as “Skipper” because of his ball handling skills and his ability to control the ball.

His three loves, he said, in order were: music, women and soccer.

Famed Jamaican soccer player Allan “Skill” Cole, one of the greatest players in Jamaican history became his tour manager. On tour, Marley and the Wailers were playing soccer at sound check, in hotel rooms, parking lots and in between sessions in the studio. He required journalists to play soccer with him if they wanted to interview him. He incorporated soccer into his day-to-day routines.

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Soccer, or football in the rest of the world, was brought to Jamaica by British colonialism. Jamaicans made it their own with a new style that incorporated speed, flair and flamboyance. It was a departure from a methodical and formulaic game. Amidst political turmoil in Jamaica, the game was a form of expression for the voiceless and a celebration of beauty.

An informal soccer game against a group of French journalists in Paris in May 1977, led him to discover that he had skin cancer. In between the time that it took for the cancer to spread, a little over three years, he recorded ferociously, sometimes for 12 hours at a time. Sometimes all night.

Despite the watered-down version of his legacy, his music endures. Jimmy Cliff once said that: What I know now is that Bob finished all he had to do on this earth.

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