Throwback Thursdays: When Ruud Gullit Was “Captain Dread”

Words by Iscious—

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The 2014 World Cup is off to an exciting and action-packed start in Brazil, and one of the biggest stories so far is surely the Netherlands 5-1 thrashing of the defending world champions Spain. Today we feature a fascinating piece of Dutch soccer history steeped in Caribbean roots, and an interesting reggae twist.

Ruud Gullit is a legendary figure in the world of soccer. The tall captain of the Netherlands national team in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gullit was an exceptional baller, who was twice named the World Soccer Player of the Year. He played a major role in winning three Dutch Eredivisie titles, three Italian Serie A titles, two European Cups, and a European Championship, his country’s first and only major honor.

Gullit, who was born in Amsterdam to an Afro-Surinamese father and his Dutch mistress, was nicknamed the Black Tulip, in reference to his graceful poise and balance with the ball. He would also come to be known as “Captain Dread.” As a nod to his Afro-Surinamese roots, Gullit, who endured harsh racism playing throughout Europe (sometimes at the hands of his own manager), started sporting dreadlocks as a 16 year old for the Dutch club Eredivisie.

Along with French tennis star Yannick Noah, he was one of the first recognizable athletes to do so. While the hairstyle is commonplace in today’s sports world, sporting dreads as a pro athlete ’80s was a revolutionary statement.

Gullit was also a huge fan of reggae music and an amateur musician and, in 1984, he released his first single, called “Not The Dancing Kind.” He was so popular at the time, that the record actually made it into the Top 10 in the Netherlands.

In 1987, the Dutch reggae group Revelation Time, with whom Ruud played bass on occasion, released a song in his honor called “Captain Dread,” which also charted in Holland.

At the same time he was playing for AC Milan in Italy, he could also be found performing in clubs around Italy, most notably the immigrant-favored Zimba. He would also come to be an outspoken critic of the apartheid regime in South Africa. In 1987, when Ruud was awarded the Ballon d’Or, given to the best soccer player in all of Europe, he dedicated the award to Nelson Mandela. In 1988, he collaborated with the aforementioned Revelation Time on their anti-apartheid anthem “South Africa.” The track, on which Gullit played bass and contributed vocals, reached No. 3 in the Dutch charts

Gullit’s music career would be somewhat short lived, lasting far shorter than his one in football—he played professionally until 1997, and has worked essentially ever since as a coach and commentator, appearing as a studio analyst for ESPN during the last World Cup in 2010.  But whether it was dazzling opponents and fans with his diverse array of skill, talent, strength and grace, or chanting down babylon with Dutch reggae bands, Ruud Gullit was definitely an international force to be reckoned with.