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  • Writer's pictureKai Abbott

"Three Little Birds" and the Connection Between Bob Marley and Ajax

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

It’s impossible not to be moved by over 50,000 voices singing together at once, especially when it is a song of love and peace. Though, anyone entering the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, might just be surprised when tens of thousands of Dutch fans join together, in a rousing rendition of Bob Marley’s 1977 hit “Three Little Birds” off his legendary album “Exodus”. Though it may seem like an unlikely anthem for a club like Ajax, which has such a rich history and deep roots with the city of Amsterdam, “Three Little Birds” has been wholeheartedly adopted by the fans, to voice their support for the club and the players after every home football match.


Ky-Mani Marley, signing "Three Little Birds", at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam (Getty Images)


If someone traveled to over 40 years ago, when Bob Marley released “Three Little Birds”, and the iconic album “Exodus”, and told him that his music would be sung by over 50,000 voices after every game at a football stadium in Amsterdam, one might not realize how much this would move the late reggae artist. Being a lifelong football fan, and even saying things about the sport such as football being a way to unite the world, if still alive, Bob Marley would have loved such an act of tribute and praise, for his music, and his favorite sport.

The tradition, beginning in 2008, came about after a friendly match against Cardiff City, when the stadium announcer asked the Ajax fans to stay longer than usual at the match. To break the monotony, the DJ present at the time, named Ali Yassine, decided to press play on “Three Little Birds”, and immediately sent the fans into song. From that moment forth, it was impossible to turn back, and ever since that fateful friendly match, a bond was created that could never be broken, between the Ajax fans, and Bob Marley.

This bond, and connection to the Jamaican artist, was further strengthened when Ky-Mani Marley, son of Bob, heard of the phenomenon, and traveled to Amsterdam to experience it himself. To his surprise, Ky-Mani was invited into the middle of the pitch after the match, and sung along with the Ajax fans to his father’s tune. Ky-Mani called the event a life changing experience, saying “... my father was a big football fan, and football and the music went hand in hand. Being able to perform the song there, to feel the energy and the vibration there that day did something to me I’ll never forget. Ajax, that’s now my team, from now until the day I’m gone.”

This love of football among Ky-Mani and Bob Marley, does not happen to be a one of interest for the Marley family, as Cedella Marley, daughter of Bob, has supported football and the Jamaican national women’s team, the Reggae Girls, for the past 12 years. When the Jamaican women’s football association was bankrupt between 2010 and 2014, Cedella Marley came to the rescue, raising millions of dollars to raise the federation up from its ashes. In 2019, the Reggae Girls played their first World Cup match against Brazil, and now, three years later, will be playing in their second ever World Cup, this coming February. When Cedella heard of the Ajax tradition, she took to social media to say, “... stories like this warm my heart and show how impactful songs like “Three Little Birds” can be. Soccer was everything to my father …and to use his words ‘football is freedom'."

In commemoration of Bob Marley, and to celebrate his infamous song, this past September, Ajax released a “Three Little Birds” inspired third kit for the upcoming season, featuring three small birds just beneath the back of the collar. Unfortunately, Ajax were unable to wear this jersey in official club matches, due to the violation of UEFA’s rule, that no jersey can feature alternate symbols around the collar, and must only feature team identification badges instead. Nevertheless, the jersey became a classic among not only Ajax fans, but all football fans around the world, due to its striking Ethiopian themed red, green, and black colors, and the message of love and peace which Marley intended to share.


Left: The Three Little Birds on the back of the Ajax third kit for the 2021/2022 season

Right: Dutch international Steven Berghuis donning the Bob Marley inspired third kit last season against Feyenoord


Such strong bonds between football teams and music are rare nowadays, especially one as powerful as the one between the Marley’s, and Ajax. With Bob and the rest of the Marley’s love for football, and the Ajax faithful not being able to get enough his music, it seems that the connection between Bob Marley and Ajax FC is match made in heaven, and surely one that will never be broken.


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