Football consumed most of Cedella Marley’s life. But perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
As the daughter of world famous reggae icon Bob Marley, who was a renowned lover of the beautiful game, Cedella was never far from the soccer ball. If he wasn’t a musician, Cedella recalls how her father told her he would like to be a footballer.
“Dad played every day,” Marley told CNN Sport. “He played wherever he was: on the road, he found the field, he found the team.
“Sometimes it was photographers, you know, sometimes it was journalists, and it was a group against journalists.
“I watched him grow up, I also watch my brothers, Ziggy and Steve. They also played football as children, and I always liked it. I love to kick the ball and was very competitive when my brothers challenged me.”
Remembering the advice given to her by Pele, Cadell smiled broadly, echoing the words of the great Brazilian of all time: “The ball is round and always take a penalty.”
“So everything was a penalty for me,” Marley laughed. “I would say, ‘I’m just going for a goal,’ and that love is just something that’s only in my DNA. I wouldn’t change her for anything.”
“Wait, does Jamaica have a women’s soccer team?”
Although she has loved football for as long as she can remember, over the years Marley’s involvement in the game has not gone beyond gunfights with her father and brothers.
But that all changed in 2014 when one day her son came home from school and handed her a flyer saying that his football coach asked him to pass it to her.
“I’m reading this… I’m like, “Wait, is there a women’s soccer team in Jamaica? Where did it come from?” she said.
Six years earlier, in 2008, insufficient funding led the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) to disband the women’s national team program. The flyer Marley’s son brought home was a fundraising request from JFF to help restart the program. Marley got to work almost immediately, the next morning he called the federation and asked what she needed.
“The needs were many,” Marley said, repeating the phrase as if to emphasize how dire the situation was.
From travel and meals to accommodation and training camps, every area of the national team needed funding.
An accomplished musician and multiple Grammy Award winner with the band Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Marley used her considerable musical talents.
“My family has gathered with me [brothers] Damien, Steve and I recorded a song called Strike Hard to raise funds,” she said.
Marley says that through a combination of royalties from Strike Hard, a GoFundMe page, and becoming an ambassador and sponsor for the women’s national team through the Bob Marley Foundation, they raised $300,000 in their first year.
The women’s team disbanded again in 2016, but Marley never wavered in her commitment to the program. In 2019, her efforts, and the work of countless others equally dedicated, saw the Women’s National Team become the first Caribbean nation to qualify for the Women’s World Cup.
Marley’s work not only helped improve standards and conditions for players, but also helped change the country’s attitude towards the women’s team.
“These girls have been told for a long time that women in sports, especially football in Jamaica, are not really that important,” Marley said. “Like, it doesn’t matter. “You guys don’t make money. You don’t draw crowds. You don’t do it, you don’t do it.”
“Nobody wants to do brand deals with us because [it’s] a women’s team, and so it’s funny now to see how all this has changed dramatically, not only for our women, but all over the world … and it excited me.
Marley spoke from Jamaica at a training camp ahead of the World Championships in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, hosted by Ajax and Adidas. According to her, all the needs of the players were met thanks to the offered “amazing” facilities.
According to Marley, the Friendship Sports Center has top-notch driving ranges, a gym, swimming pool and basketball court and “everything Jamaican players need to better prepare for the World Cup.”
“I remember the days when it was like a dark room, you know, in the basement or something,” Marley recalls with a dry laugh.
“So it’s a big difference to see how they train now.”
Eleven players from the last World Cup are also included in Jamaica’s Australia and New Zealand squad, and that extra experience means expectations are higher this time around.
At the 2019 French Championships, Jamaica was drawn into a tough group that included Italy, Australia and Brazil. The Reggae Girlz lost all three matches but made history by scoring the country’s first goal in the Women’s World Cup when Havana Solaun scored in a 4-1 win against Australia.
This year, the team boasts several players doing their job at the highest level around the world, led by Manchester City striker Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, who scored an impressive 20 goals and provided seven assists during the Women’s Super League campaign last season.
That Jamaica has so many talented players is partly thanks to former head coach Hugh Menzies, who had the foresight to send the country’s most promising players to schools in the United States when the country’s women’s league was dissolved in 2015 and the national team lay dormant.
The team’s individual and collective growth over the past four years has given Jamaica confidence that it can improve France’s 2019 results.
“We want to get on the field and we want to win,” Marley said confidently, and this time Jamaica drew with Brazil, France and Panama. The play-offs will be difficult, but the team made history in the opening game against France, taking the first point of the tournament after a heroic 0-0 draw.
“It’s just nice to watch the game and our girls. They are very focused, that’s the only thing I can tell you, and they go there in warrior mode.”
However, the preparation for the tournament was not always smooth.
Last month, many first-team players wrote an open letter to the JFF expressing “extreme disappointment” at what they called “unsatisfactory” conditions in preparation for the World Cup.
The letter also alleges that JFF failed to honor “contractual compensation”.
CNN has reached out to JFF for comment but has yet to receive a response. In a statement on its website, JFF acknowledged that “everything has not been done perfectly”, but that it is “working hard to resolve” player issues.
And JFF President Michael Ricketts said last month that the federation wants to “make sure we provide as much as possible for girls,” Reuters reported.
Chinelou Asher, who played for Jamaica in the last World Cup, told CNN the purpose of the statement was to “lure” the federation into taking the women’s national team more seriously.
“People want to know what the last World Cup was like, and I’m like, ‘Well, here we are doing it again,’” Asher said, referring to the previous problems the team had.
According to Usher, the Reggae Girlz now have a contractual agreement with their national federation, but they still had to release a public statement to ensure they received the best World Cup support possible.
Marley says she hasn’t contacted the federation since the players later opened up, instead preferring to focus solely on how she can help the women’s team directly. Marley says that even when she first joined the team in 2014, she had little contact with JFF.
“I really talked to the girls to find out what their needs are, because I can’t be effective knowing what their [the JFF] The problem is, she said. “I’d rather know what the women’s team needs.
“I am not particularly interested in issues that do not concern me. You know, the girls have spoken, I hope the federation has heard.
“But what I do is I have direct conversations with the girls to see how I can help and I come from that because I don’t think the Jamaican federation is any different than any other federation,” adds Marley, referring to the ongoing dispute between the English Lionesses and their FA over bonus payouts.
“Football is freedom”
Despite all she has achieved with the women’s national team, perhaps Marley’s greatest achievement in football is the creation of her Football is Freedom initiative.
The name is taken from one of her father’s famous quotes, and in October 2021 the initiative kicked off with a week-long training camp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the Jamaican and Costa Rica women’s teams received a training base before they met in a friendly match.
Since then, the initiative has expanded. Last February, when her father would have turned 77, Football is Freedom opened its first all-girls football clinic in Jamaica, focusing on developing young women as players and as people.
Marley says her initiative is about helping girls develop life skills by providing them with mentorship and higher education opportunities.
“I have taken everything I have learned over the last nine years and applied it to build what I hope will be a better future, not only for my country. “Football is freedom” is an initiative that I hope the whole world will accept,” Marley said.
“We’re starting from the grassroots in Jamaica right now…and we’re giving every girl the chance to be a game changer, not only on the field, but in their homes, their communities, and life in general.”
Marley admits she never understood her father’s quotes when she was younger, but says they resonate deeply with her now after the journey she’s been through in the last nine years.
“Like I live it,” she said.
Football could be an outlet for girls living in “rough communities” in Jamaica, Marley said, as some players continue to receive scholarships, and the success of Football Is Freedom showed that the initiative welcomed Adidas and Common Goal as partners.
She has seen firsthand how gifted some girls are and says that this natural talent for football “could change their lives.” All they need, she said, is “the proper structure.”
“I’ve been lucky so far, but I know that doing what I’m trying to do isn’t easy,” says Marley. “It takes a whole bunch of people who believe in the same thing to make a difference.
“So I’m reaching out to those believers who believe they can somehow change people’s minds because these girls deserve that opportunity.
“Every opportunity we can give them.”