Every football team, or most football teams, has an anthem imprinted in every fan’s DNA. They know it as the anthem of their country and every time they hear it they pay respect and sing it at every victory or every defeat.
But there are songs that become unofficial anthems and are just as, if not more, significant than the team song itself. At Ajax Amsterdam, there is a tune that means a lot to the fans that was written miles away from the Dutch capital.
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The Three Little Birds
The song that Dutch fans love so much is Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. But to understand why they adopted it, you have to know a little about the song.
The Jamaican singer Bob Marley wrote it in the summer of 1977 in England. It was common for the legendary songwriter to be inspired by everything around him, and that time for him was very complicated. He was in a self-imposed exodus, in fact, the name of the album of which the song is a part is called “Exodus”.
Things weren’t going so well for Marley, who in spite of everything maintained that positivism that always characterised him. For him, life was something to be enjoyed and things were going to get better. His friend Tony Gilbert, who was present while the singer was writing the song, says that the main inspiration was a trio of birds singing outside the composer’s window.
Complicated moments and lyrics invite you to think of better times, “Don’t worry about a thing, because every little thing is going to be alright”. Bob Marley tells himself that things will get better, the hope for a better world summed up in a song.
How it came to Ajax.
Pre-season of the 2008 season. Ajax was travelling to Cardiff for one of several friendly games. The team was being assembled and players had to be tested. Their loyal fans, as always, followed them and filled the stadium of the small Welsh team.
The match was nothing special. A goalless draw, a lot of changes, players still finding their rhythm, nothing interesting. What nobody expected was that this inconsequential game would be the Genesis of a tradition that Ajax fans consider sacred.
The organizers asked the Dutch fans to stay a little longer to allow the home fans to leave. Obviously, they had to be entertained to break the monotony of the wait. So the stadium DJ, Ali Yassine, started playing music, and the first song he chose was Three Little Birds.
To everyone’s surprise, the fans started singing and dancing to it. They had instantly fallen in love. From that moment on, they started chanting it every game they supported the team.
The fans are usually the 12th player of the team, when things don’t work out on the pitch, you have to count on the encouragement of the fans who give their lives for the team. Sometimes the players are motivated and draw strength from unexpected places by the chants and support of those in the stands.
That happened in 2012 in the Europa League, when this song graduated with honours and became the official anthem of Ajax Amsterdam. The Dutch side lost 0-2 at home and had to go to Manchester United’s Old Trafford to try to do the impossible.
The match did not start in the best way. In the 6th minute, Mexico’s Javier Hernandez opened the scoring to make it 0-3 on aggregate, virtually sealing the Red Devils’ place in the next round.
But the Ajax fans never gave up. They started chanting Three Little Birds over and over again. As if they were saying “no matter what you do, we are proud of you, things are going to be fine”. The legendary Theatre of Dreams fell silent and only the notes of the song written in 1977 by Bob Marley could be heard.
The players understood that it was now or never and never worried, for, as the lyrics say, things were going to be alright. Aras Ozbiliz scored the first and the song sounded even louder. Time was ticking away and Ajax dominated, but they were two goals short.
In the 87th minute, Belgian Toby Alderweireld scored Ajax’s second and gave them hope, the hope that is so much in the song. In the end, it was not to be, but the fans sang so loudly, that it was heard as far away as Kingston. A new football anthem was born.
A very Jamaican Ajax
Bob Marley was a die-hard football fan. He played all the time, and it was common to see him holding a football or watching a game. His family says the singer would have been thrilled to see his song being sung in a football stadium and not in concert.
In 2018 Kymani Marley went to the Johan Cruyff Arena before a Champions League game to sing the song to the fans and to close the communion between the Marley’s and Ajax. It was an impressive moment. For three minutes, there was nothing else to think about. A melody pure and true.
For the 2021-22 season the club decided to pay tribute to the composer who had given them the anthem with a commemorative shirt that had the three little birds on top of the three “x” of the Amsterdam flag, a wonderful coincidence, by the way, Ajax said thank you to Bob Marley.
A song of hope, unity, and peace that inspires one of Europe’s greatest clubs.