Music evokes a powerful visceral response in us. Everyone has that one song that makes them cry or feel physical unease as they recall a painful time, and everyone has that song that makes them laugh when they remember ‘that one time…’ someone did something hilarious or embarrassing. The strong emotion brought about by a specific song often comes from the story behind it as opposed to the composition of rhythm, lyrics, and poetry that are the song itself. We associate music with these memories; it adds another layer to them, making them real, allowing us to recall moments in a much more tangible way as opposed to a two-dimensional film playing in our heads. Songs are chosen to represent ceremonies like weddings and graduations, and songs can even be written to represent entities like a nation’s national anthem. The history, the struggles, and the valor of a nation can be captured in its national anthem. If you’ve ever competed in organized sports, or been to a professional sporting event, just hearing your nation’s national anthem before the start of competition can give you goosebumps. Some professional sports teams have their own specific team anthems or rally cries. Take for instance “Chelsea Dagger” for the Chicago Blackhawks or “Tessie” for the Boston Red Sox to name a few (some of the most famous ones can be found here). One professional sports organization is so serious about their team’s anthem that the words adorn the historic team’s emblem, and has steadily become a mindset; these are words to live by: “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.
Imagine for a minute that you are in Liverpool, England attending a Liverpool Football Club soccer match. You are seated among a sea of red supporters. Just before kick-off, the players take their positions on the field in preparation for the challenge ahead of them—tensions are high, and anticipation is boiling over—and suddenly a soothing piano melody comes on over the stadium speakers. Suddenly everyone has their arms in the air, lifting a scarf, flag, or other piece of Liverpool memorabilia in their hands, and loud screams and cries of support give way to a quell of silence and calm, and then the tune “You’ll Never Walk Alone” can be heard coming from every direction. The singing is ubiquitous throughout the stadium, as every fan is joining in. To an individual on the street, it would probably seem like the bricks and metal of the stadium gained the ability to sing; how else could the song be so loud? Liverpool fans are singing at the top of their lungs with the utmost passion, only to be drowned out by the singing of other fans throughout the stands, but it doesn’t matter, because they are not singing to be heard by others, but for themselves—for their own passion and belief in the team. There is no leader or head-singer like is done with the national anthem at other sporting events, the crowd is self-led through the song. A tingling sensation spawns from the back of your neck as the excitement and anticipation for the forthcoming match peaks and, finally, the referee’s whistle blows signaling the kick off, and the crowd erupts into its initial chaos and resumes into cheers and screams. But why “You’ll Never Walk Alone”? What is the significance of a musical show-tune to the Liverpool Football Club, and why do supporters of the club claim it as their anthem? The story is deeply rooted in the club’s history, cemented in two events that are known by the names of the locations they took place in: Hillsborough and Istanbul.
Liverpool, England is three hours northwest of London by train, but the two cities differ immensely. It’s a working-class city built around the shipping industry. The Titanic is probably the most famous ship built in Liverpool, and at one point, Liverpool was the busiest shipping port in the world. The most famous foursome in the world of popular music got their start playing together night after night in a (literally) underground venue called “The Cavern Club”. You and I know them as “The Beatles”. Today, walking through Liverpool’s Cavern Quarter is like a walking Beatles museum. You can visit the original Cavern Club which hosts Beatles Cover Bands regularly, take a picture with a life-sized statue of a young John Lennon, and see other traces left behind by the Beatles in their time before becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Meanwhile, at the same time the Beatles were getting their start, another Liverpool band was gaining momentum with the release of their first three singles in rapid succession over a span of a few months, which all reached number one on the UK charts—a feat not even the Beatles accomplished in their rise to fame (in fact the Beatles’ first single “Love me Do” only reached number four at its peak position on the UK charts). Liverpool’s own Gerry and the Pacemakers were an early success. If you lived in Liverpool in the early 1960s, you probably would have envisioned that Gerry and the Pacemakers would become the biggest contribution Liverpool would make to the world of music. Their third single that reached the top spot on the charts was “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, originally written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the musical “Carousel” and later covered by them in October of 1963.
A few months later, mid-way through the Liverpool Football Club’s season and before the start of a match, the PA system operator would play popular, chart-topping songs on the stadium sound system at Anfield (Liverpool’s home stadium). “You’ll Never Walk Alone” comes on and without being prodded to do so, the crowd bursts out in unison, singing along with the song, in a fit of pride for a hometown band, and the beauty of the message of the song itself. And so the tradition began. For the remaining matches in the 1963-64 season, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was sung by the crowd before each match. Liverpool Football Club would go on to win the League Title that season for the first time in almost twenty years, and a string of successful seasons would follow.
When you walk
Through a storm,
Hold your head up high.
And don’t be afraid of the dark…
Fast forward to 1989, and Liverpool have won nearly a dozen league titles since the ’63-’64 season, and have become a powerhouse, known throughout Europe as a successful team, winning every title there is for a professional soccer team to win in Europe. The competition was against Nottingham Forrest for the championship of an English tournament known as the F.A. Cup, and was held at a neutral ground: Hillsborough Stadium. Supporters from all over England came to watch. Thousands attended the highly anticipated match. A day that began with elation for the upcoming event quickly turned into disaster just after the referee blew the whistle to signal the start of the game. Poor crowd control and policing led to the over-filling of one of the stadium stands, resulting in one of the darkest days in Liverpool Football history. The game had to be stopped only a few minutes after it began as panic ensued and the problem became apparent. In the end, 96 supporters never made it home. (Learn more about the Hillsborough Disaster here). A memorial is held every year on April 15th to remember the 96 innocent lives that were lost on that day. To make matters worse, the event was initially blamed on drunken Liverpool fans, and a long legal battle ensued to assure the names of the innocent lives lost would not be marred by these accusations. Finally, in 2012, an official report was issued, vindicating Liverpool fans of the blame for the disaster. According to Kenny Daglish (former player and manager for Liverpool), “As well as being a footballing song, it also filled a huge void for people who lost somebody at Hillsborough,” when referring to what “You’ll Never Walk Alone” means to the fans.
At the end of the storm
There’s a golden sky…
Sixteen years later Liverpool Football Club is competing for the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League Title. The most prestigious title for any European soccer club is that of the Champions League Title. Take the best three clubs from the previous season in every top league from every nation in Europe, and put them in one tournament bracket and the winner can arguably be called the best in the world. In 2005 Liverpool made it to the finals of the Champions League tournament, and they faced an elite club from Italy: AC Milan. That year, the finals for the tournament were held in Istanbul, Turkey. The tradition of singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is so long going now that it’s become second nature to the supporters, and the world of soccer knows this as the club’s anthem. The words “You’ll Never Walk Alone” adorn the club’s crest, and are immortalized on the Shankly Gates at the entrance of their home stadium.
The origins of the song as the team’s anthem are no longer well known—almost mythical. Gerry and the Pacemakers can no longer be considered on the same echelon as the Beatles, ships are no longer built in Liverpool, and the club has had its share of ups and downs since the early 1960s. One thing has remained constant for each Liverpool match, and this match is no different. Even without the background melody as is done at Anfield for home matches, the Liverpool supporters burst out into “You’ll Never Walk Alone” prior to the start of the match.
Walk on, through the rain
Or your dreams be tossed and blown…
After a brutal first half, Liverpool were being dominated, down 3-0, an impossible mountain to climb, especially at such an elite level of competition. The title was all but lost... As the teams come back on the field for the second half, murmurings in the background can be heard of Liverpool fans banding together, urging their team to push onward in the form of song as they sing a reprise of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at the start of the second half:
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart,
And You’ll Never Walk Alone…
You’ll Never Walk Alone
When speaking about Istanbul, Liverpool captain at the time, Stephen Gerrard said, “you’ve let them [the fans] down, you’ve let yourself down… You’ve been totally played off the park for 45 minutes. And then you hear the chorus of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ probably the loudest and most emotional rendition I’ve ever heard as a player.” Taking these words to heart and banding together to ‘walk on,’ the team did not give up. In the most dramatic fashion, Liverpool scored three goals in less than ten minutes to tie the game at 3-3 and push it to sudden death penalty kicks. With the momentum on their side, Liverpool would go on to thwart AC Milan in penalties and accomplish the impossible in a game that will go down as one of the best comebacks in the history of all professional sports.
The words “You’ll Never Walk Alone” are a clear message for what the club stands for. It’s common for fellow Liverpool supporters to bid farewell or acknowledge one another with these words, because it represents the ideals of the club. Sang by a native Liverpool band that doesn’t get the same recognition as its more popular counterpart (much like the city of Liverpool compared to London), urging the team and its supporters forward through difficult times so that when glory is gained ‘at the end of the storm’ the glory is shared among all those who consider themselves Reds. It’s more than just a song, it’s an anthem that stands for what the Club and its supporters believe, and music has this power to represent so many emotions. Our passion, our past struggles and the glory of overcoming them come through songs that we relate to those times in our lives. Music brings us back to those moments.
View from my seat at the Liverpool vs. Manchester United match on March 22nd, 2015.
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