Bob Marley’s manager, and former professional footballer, Allan “Skill” Cole, started a routine with the reggae legend that involved running and soccer training every morning.
“It became an integral part of our lifestyle,” said Cole. Marley would run on the beach, then up to the waterfall at Cane River Falls in Jamaica. There he would smoke a spliff, enjoying a back and neck massage from the waterfall. Then back to “the stadium,” a 40-yard asphalt rectangle where he played five-a-side scrimmage soccer with breeze-blocks for goalposts.
The Wailer’s close friend, Dessi Smith said, “He just didn’t play for the fun of it. It was part of the process, y’know. Before he writes a song, burn a spliff. Then you go run, so you can lively up yourself, and then he’d get more inspired so the lyrics could come out.”
Jammin’ soccer. Marley himself said, “Tell you the truth, I play everywhere. Anywhere ‘tis possible, y’know. Football is a whole skill to itself. A whole world. A whole universe to itself. Me love it because you have to be skillful to play it. Freedom. Football is freedom.”
Whether on tour, in the recording studio, or chilling with family and friends the soccer ball was never far away. He also loved watching soccer on TV. His favorite team was the Brazilian club, Santos, and his favorite player was Pele.
On a trip to Rio de Janeiro in 1970, he joined in a street soccer game. Along with fellow musicians and Brazilian street kids they knocked the ball around. The vibration struck a chord. The Brazilians gave Marley a Number 10, Santos strip (Pele’s number,) the highest honor, the number worn by the play creator on a soccer field.
In 1977, Marley injured his foot while playing soccer with some friends. The wound seemed pretty extreme for a simple soccer injury, and when it got worse instead of healing, he decided to see a doctor. A melanoma was diagnosed and amputation of the toe was recommended.
But as a devout Rastafarian, Bob Marley believed that amputation was sinful. A Bible verse that Rastafarians hold very important, Leviticus 21:5, says: “They shall not make baldness upon their head … nor make any cuttings in the flesh.”
There is an additional tenet of Rastafarianism. The belief is essentially that death is not a certainty, and that truly holy people will gain immortality in their physical bodies. To even acknowledge that death is a possibility is to make certain that it will come soon.
Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981. Soccer had lost a great Number 10.
Luke James is a soccer correspondent for Soccer Newsday. He contributes to the Beautiful Blog at SFGate.com. Tweet him @lukejamessoccer