The History of the Football Anthem "You’ll Never Walk Alone"
The songs sung by fans in football stadiums can often seem a little trivial, repetitive and thoughtless. This is not the case with the anthem 'You’ll Never Walk Alone', a hymn that has tangible links to footballing history.
“When you walk through a storm/Hold your head up high/And don't be afraid of the dark/At the end of a storm/There's a golden sky/And the sweet silver song of a lark”. These lyrics, from the song You’ll Never Walk Alone, were composed in 1945 and acted as a comfort to families suffering during the Second World War. The song ends “walk on with hope in your heart and you'll never walk alone”.
Initially, this song was composed (by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II) for the American musical Carousel. The musical was later adapted into a film, in 1956. The song appears when the heroine of the musical, Julie Jordan, learns of her husband’s suicide.
Frank Sinatra was the first performer to record the song, in 1945. In fact he recorded two tracks from Carousel on that album, If I Loved You and You’ll Never Walk Alone. Before ever appearing in football stadiums more than fifteen great performers interpreted the song, including Nina Simone and Ray Charles.
1963 was a turning point for the song, Gerry and the Peacemakers, a young British band from Liverpool, recorded it and made it incredibly popular. This led it to the football stadiums; in the 1960s speakers played the Top Ten Charts throughout the stadium before a match. You’ll Never Walk Alone was therefore played at Anfield, the Liverpool stadium, for an entire season.
Even once the Gerry and the Peacemakers version of the song left the charts it continued to be played at Anfield as the fans shouted, “Where is our song? Where is our song?” until it returned.
The Birth of an Anthem
Supporters of the Reds (the Liverpool club) had found their hymn, the lyrics were easy to remember and uplifting for the players, and the melody was powerful, if a little difficult to sing. You’ll Never Walk Alone has been with club in its best times and its worst.
On the 15th of April 1989 Liverpool FC faced Nottingham Forest, in Sheffield. The Hillsborough Stadium, built for the 1966 World Cup, did not have seating on the West side for visiting fans. There was a crush as late-admitted Liverpool fans rushed in to see the match; it caused the death of 96 people. In 2016 the police, present at the match, were found guilty of causing this deadly incident.
Though at the time the press and public blamed the fans. You’ll Never Walk Alone has become a symbol of the struggle to commemorate the wrongly accused victims of the Hillsborough disaster. When the song is sung during matches other clubs sing along with Liverpool fans, a quite unique occurrence in football.
Though the Gerry and the Peacemakers song has become the Reds’ hymn, other football clubs also still adopt it; it has become a song for football fans. Remarkably, a similar thing occurred in Germany, in the town of Dortmund, some 30 years late.
In 1996, Pur Harmony, a group of five musician from Dortmund, made a new, more rhythmic 90s version of the song with synths. It was played in German stadiums and years late in 2008 it also became their anthem.
An article by SoFoot argues that Dortmund and Liverpool share an anthem because they have some important things in common, “In the two cities unemployment is frequently at extreme levels, reflecting sad national averages (12% in Merseydside and 11.8% in the Ruhr area at the end of 2015), the message of hope and courage in “YNWA” [You’ll Never Walk Alone] could not have found better audiences”.
Liverpool and Dortmund are not the only clubs to have adopted the song as their anthem, Celtic (Glasgow), FC Tokyo and Feyenoord (Rotterdam) also frequently sing it; proof that You’ll Never Walk Alone has been transcending borders, effecting generations and events for more than 70 years.
The song is not only sung in football stadiums, in 2001 Barbara Streisand sang You’ll Never Walk Alone at Emmy Awards ceremony to commemorate the 2,977 people killed by the 11th of September terrorist attack. In 2009 Renée Fleming sang it at the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.