Top Honors: Alan “Skilly” Cole

Words by Eddie STATS Houghton

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Former Jamaican footballer Alan Cole, better known as Skill or Skilly, was honored by the Jamaican Football Federation last week on the occasion of FIFA president Joseph Sepp Blatter’s visit to the island. Now a coach for West Kingston’s Seba United, Cole was the youngest player to ever represent Jamaica at the national level at the tender of age 16. He subsequently left the island, playing professionally for the top Brazilian club Nautico ca. 1972, but returned to lead the Jamaican Santos team in the mid-sevenites. Many football fans consider this period to be the best run of his career, peaking when he lead Santos to defeat Brazilian football hero Pele and the New York Cosmos at Jamaica’s National Stadium in 1975.

Certainly it was the height of his fame and notoriety, since in addition to being JA’s most famous footballer in those days he was also running mates with country’s other most famous face, Bob Marley. His status as right-hand man allegedly extended to lending his considerable muscle when it came time to collect royalties or guarantee airplay in Jamaica’s cut-throat music biz and at points he was officially listed as Marley’s manager–and even has a songwriting credit on the tune “Natty Dread.” A central character in the Marley story, he is well familiar to anyone who has read Timothy White’s biography of the reggae star “Catch a Fire,” and for better or worse, his illustrious career on the field was often overshadowed by his place right at the heart of the perfect storm of rasta, politics, payola and illegal gambling that swirled around the assassination attempt on Marley just days before the legendary One Love peace concert in 1978.

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Still, considering his gigantic talents and iconic stature, the official recognition seems more than a little overdue, a situation Cole acknowledged with good humor when he remarked: “I lived in Ethiopia for three years and in one season I got a lot of accolades in that country. I Have played for Jamaica from I was 16 and am just getting an award, so I must cherish and honor it.”

You can read White’s description of the 1975 Cosmos match below:

On Sunday evening, September 30, 1975, a few days after the “Jah Live” sessions, Alan Cole led the Santos team…to a 1-0 victory over the New York Cosmos at the National Stadium, a record crowd of over 45,000 jamming the stands to check fe Skilly as his game completely overshadowed that of Pele, who seemed to be playing at half-pace for most of the match. The Cosmos apparently hadn’t expected much competition.

Seeing that New York was taking a low-energy attitude toward the home team, the fans turned ugly, beating sticks, rocks and shoe leather against any hard surface in the bleachers and calling for Cosmo blood. Bob, who was in the stands…joined in the chant. On the playing field, Skilly responded to the crowd by siezing the ball; he whirled about to chip it to outside right Errol Reid, who scored in the 25th minute of the first half. Adrenalized by the thunderclap of maleficent joy from the throng, a flying wedge of rudies hit the iron gate at the Mountain View side of the stadium and sailed inside…they were just in time to witness Santos’ back four defender Billy Perkins’ second-half tackle of Pele, who had to be helped from the field by by two Cosmos coaches.