THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

22 February ~ A book called The Bob Marley I Know is planned for publication later this year. It's possible that a copy will be sent to FIFA headquarters as Sepp Blatter presented an award to the writer, Alan "Skilly" Cole, in September 2010 in recognition of his contribution to Jamaican football. A month later the appeals courts in Kingston quashed an 18-month prison term for drugs offences which had been hanging over Cole since 2007. As you may have gathered, Skilly Cole was not a run-of-the-mill professional footballer.

Cole was Jamaica's youngest international player aged 16 in 1966. Soon afterwards he joined the Atlanta Chiefs in the fledgling North American Soccer League and later had a spell in Brazil with Náutico. In his second season there Cole's commitment to the Rastafarian lifestyle caused a breach with the club and he returned home to Kingston with Santos, who were named after Pelé's club side and wore the Brazilian national kit.

Santos became the dominant club on the island, winning the championship for four seasons in a row from 1973-74, but Cole's international career never really took off. Jamaica withdrew midway through the 1974 World Cup qualifying campaign when 17 squad members were suspended following "high jinx" at an away match in Bermuda, and they did not even enter the tournament in 1982 and 1986.

Cole met Bob Marley during his spell at Santos and subsequently acted on his behalf in a number of capacities. These included plugging Marley's 45's where Cole, often accompanied by an associate known as "Tek Life", would persuade DJs on the state-controlled stations to play his friend's records. Cole can even lay claim to several song-writing credits within Marley's extensive repertoire. By 1976 Kingston was on the brink of an undeclared civil war as political parties fought for control of the ghettos. In December that year Marley, his wife Rita and manager Don Taylor were ambushed by gunmen and badly wounded. It was initially suggested that the incident was retribution for a betting scam initiated by Cole but this was later seen as cover for a likely political motivation behind the attack.

Marley and his entourage fled Jamaica for London and at the same time Cole left for Ethiopia, where he took up the role of national football coach. During their three-year exile reciprocal visits were frequent and Cole was instrumental in organising the Wailers' appearance at the Zimbabwe Independence Day Concert. When visiting Marley during the recording of Exodus, Cole would turn out for the Wailers football team at their adopted Battersea Park home.

Cole was with Marley to the end of his life in 1981 and was managing his final tour. They were jogging in Central Park when the singer collapsed and was diagnosed with a brain tumour that proved fatal. Cole says that his new book is a response to "inaccurate" biographies of Marley. Personally, I'm just as interested in finding out about Cole's football career, including what happened on the notorious trip to Bermuda. Jim Heath Junk Archive