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Football is freedom

WITH no football to shout about at present - due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic - QPR+ commentator Nick London has penned some of his most noteworthy tales from press boxes all over the globe.

Anecdote number four isn't press box related but it certainly is football related. He explains how he and his former workmates would often play matches against the great Bob Marley and his band the Wailers.

“Football is a whole skill to itself. A whole world. A whole universe to itself. Me love it because you have to be skilful to play it! Freedom! Football is freedom.” So said Bob Marley.

Bob Marley and the Wailers liked to play football.

Carribbean they may have been but, when it came to sport, cricket held little interest.

Bob himself was even buried with a football alongside him in his coffin. And a Les Paul guitar.

So whenever they were due to arrive in London for a series of concerts a reminder would always be issued.

“Don’t forget to check their schedule and find time for a game.”

The Director of Press and Publicity at Island Records was a football fan and a QPR Season Ticket holder, so it fell to Rob to get things organised and that included arranging a venue.

The red shale pitches at Battersea Park weren’t exactly top quality but they had the advantage of being all weather (within reason) and you could hire them by the hour.

In between media interviews, photo shoots, rehearsals and sound checks, a window was identified in the musicians’ busy schedule for a match: the Wailers and their entourage versus an Island Records XI.

The Island line up was at times flexible and I was only too happy to shake myself free of other commitments if I got the call to play.

On one occasion the pitch had been booked from 2pm until 3pm.

The Wailers shuffled over at about twenty past two.

They sat down and got their socks and boots on, limbered up and enjoyed a final hand-rolled cigarette.

Eventually, at about twenty to three, the match was properly under way.

The Wailers’ team could play a bit and they were heading for a hearty victory. Their Tour Manager was a former Jamaican International striker called Allan Cole, who was more usually just known as ‘Skill’. And good luck trying to dispossess the influential midfielder Marley.

A precisely three o’clock a gaggle of young teenagers arrived and stood by the pitch bouncing a ball. It was school holidays and they too had made a reservation.

After a bit of obvious shuffling about, one of them blurted out ‘Mister, we’ve got the pitch booked from 3’ to no-one in particular. They were either oblivious or unconcerned at who they were trying to eject.

The Wailers couldn’t understand any of this and they weren’t at all happy.

‘Rob, man, we’ve only just started. What’s going on?’

The correct response to this might have been something like...

‘Yes, that’s true, but if you had been a trifle more prompt we’d have had a full hour by now.’

The Wailers were, well, wailing and a solution had to be found.

Rob went to his wallet and grabbed a wodge of cash.

£200 according to his expenses claim that week.

The roll of notes was thrust into the hand of one of the schoolboys and they were invited to disappear right off. Or a similar phrase.

The dust rose from the red shale as they scarpered, content in the circumstances, to forgo their game of football on this occasion.

So the match was able to continue. The Wailers won. And everyone drifted away happy.

We often wondered what happened when the schoolboys got home laden with crisp banknotes.

No doubt their parents asked ‘where did that money come from?’

Imagine the reaction at the reply… ‘A man in the park gave it to me!’