Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The story behind "You'll never walk alone"

(The following article was written by Antoine Choueri, a die-hard Liverpool fan that knows the club's history inside out. I couldn't write an article about Liverpool even if I tried, so in the order of fairness, mixing supporters and usual bias, which is what this blog is about, I'll leave it up to him. You can follow him on Twitter @lfckop.)

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high...

It's 1940 and it has barely been a year since World War II has started, and most of mainland Europe is already on its feet, having surrendered to the Third Reich. All eyes are on the last resistant, England, and what has remained of its British Empire. What is arguably the biggest empire in history is on the brink of defeat. In the North-West of England, between the River Mersey and the Irish Sea, Liverpool is witnessing the heaviest destruction it has ever seen, being the most bombed city in the Nazi Blitz after London. Fast-forward a couple of decades later, and Liverpool has barely recovered from the Blitz and post-war crises. The birth of the Manchester Ship Canal means the ships coming from America and the rest of the world would bypass the destructed Liverpool Docks to go straight to Manchester. What was once the Empire's second-city and the biggest seaport in the world is on the verge of extinction, half of the city's inhabitants having fled to London or the US.

...At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky...

But as the old saying states, there are things that are just meant to be. In 1960, a 47-year-old Scot called William Shankly had just settled down on the Mersey to manage a mediocre Division Two Liverpool FC side. On July that same year, four teenagers change their band name from "Silver Beatles" to "The Beatles". Liverpool was meant to change history forever.

By 1963, Bill Shankly's Liverpool were back in the top flight, already challenging for the title. The Beatles, with a handful of #1 hits, were leading the Merseybeat movement, vastly dominating the charts. Just like The Beatles, Gerry And The Pacemakers were a Merseybeat band from Liverpool, managed by Brian Epstein and recorded by George Martin. After the dark, unsuccessful 50's, Liverpool Football Club was back on top. Its home-ground, Anfield, was all packed again week-in week-out. Among the stands at Anfield, the terrace where the core of the home fans stood was The Spion Kop, named after the South African hill where a large number of Liverpudlians lost their lives in the Boer War in 1900. The Kop, a standing terrace, could host up to 30,000 Liverpool fans, making it one of the biggest single-tier stands in the world.

Back then, tickets were not bought on the internet 6 months prior to the game (they weren't 50-odd  quid either), fans had to get early to the ground and wait in the never-ending queues to watch their local team play, cue The Kop being already packed up a good half-hour before every game. To keep them young lads entertained and soak up the atmosphere, the stadium DJ would often play the Charts' hits, mainly from Liverpudlian bands at the time. Renowned for their natural bond with music, the Scousers on the Kop would often sing along with the voices they've heard so often in the local clubs, before seeing their beloved Liverpool beat yet another opposition and make their way up the table. Then on one cold November afternoon, while eagerly waiting for the men in red to get on the pitch and put in a blinder, The Kop suddenly erupts into singing a tune one would have thought they'd known for ages. They were singing along to Gerry Mardsen, one of their own, performing his third #1 hit in a row. A tune he took from a 1945 American musical he grew up loving, and sang in Merseybeat fashion.

A song called "You'll Never Walk Alone".

Following the tremendous reception it got from the Kop, the song was played before and after every game at Anfield that season. It remains so to this day. By the end of the season, in mid-1964, Liverpool FC were champions of England, and Beatlemania had reached America, and the rest of the planet. Liverpool was sitting on top of the world. As the years went by and silverware ridiculously piled up in the Anfield Trophy Room, the song vigorously accompanied the men in red, win or defeat, home or away, locally or abroad. The Kop's unusual singing (the only noise crowds generated at the time was roars and clapping), noise volume, humour, generosity, banners, flags, scarves, originality, creativity, and most importantly, its unity made it the most famous football terrace in the world. Many terraces across Europe were named after the Kop, and a handful of other clubs' fans adopted "You'll Never Walk Alone" as their anthem: Dutch teams Feyenoord, FC Twente and SC Cambuur, Germany's Borussia Dortmund, Mainz 05, 1. FC Kaiserslautern, Borussia Mönchengladbach, FC St Pauli, SV Darmstadt 98, Japan's F.C. Tokyo, and more famously, Scotland's Celtic Glasgow.

Other clubs may see it as a brilliant song (it is one of the finest tunes ever recorded), but it holds a special, unique, and emotional place in Liverpool fans' hearts and Liverpool FC folklore. Its words are an anthem for Liverpool's two most important events in its 120 years of history. Its best and its worst. The highest and the lowest. 2005 and 1989. Hillsborough and Istanbul.

On the 15th of April 1989, 96 Liverpool fans went to watch their beloved side go through to yet another Cup final, but never made it home. While the rest of the country were making up stories about how Liverpool fans were responsible for the disaster (Taylor's Report clearly say it was police errors), the city was united, mourning and standing by its own, those 96 brothers who lost their lives at a football match. The first football game Liverpool played after the disaster was a friendly at Celtic, set up as a tribute to the 96, and both sets of fans went on to sing their anthem in unison in the most emotional way. 
Similar scenes at Wembley, just before the FA Cup final between Liverpool and Everton, where 90,000 Scousers sang YNWA, reminding the world that there are things that are just bigger than football, and their rivalry was only on the pitch (Liverpool went on to win the Cup, again). Another interesting, and overlooked, story happened just days after the disaster. There was a European Cup tie between Milan and Real Madrid. Halfway through the minute of silence, Milan fans start singing YNWA, also showing respect to the 96 in the most beautiful way.

On the 25th of May 2005, despite being in a European Cup final, Liverpool FC had been nearly invisible for 15 years. That wasn't to change after 45 minutes, having gone 3 goals down; the European Cup, the ol' big ears, was already heading to Milan. However, ss soon as the players were about to come on again on the pitch to alleviate the humiliation, they overheard half the stadium bursting into the most passionate YNWA ever.

...Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone...

Liverpool win on penalties.

Just like the movies.

It was on that cold afternoon in 1963 that the greatest anthem ever was born, when the story between a song and a city all began. If you think that "You'll Never Walk Alone" is just another 1960's pop song Liverpool fans happen to sing before each game, then you thought wrong. This pre-match ritual is the story of a city, of joy and sorrow, pride and humility. It's a war cry, an hymn of triumph, and occasional pain.

"You'll Never Walk Alone" is what Liverpool Football club is all about.


  1. Very well written. Gave me goosebumps just thinking of it. YNWA

    1. same here. goosebumps! YNWA fellow kopites!

  2. Great story. Very well written as well. Could've been even better if such writing talent and Manchester United were combined though :) GGMU

  3. Interesting, intriguing, well written, passionate and historically accurate. Best article I have read for ages.

  4. Interesting story but false.

    1. Anonymous - If it is False tell us where or are you a Coward?

  5. Genuinely brought me to tears remembering the '05 half-time singing. It was absolutely phenomenal.

  6. Lovely story and just love that's nothing but the truth. I am a United supporter but get bumps when I hear the Kop sing it everytime. Just love the history of the club... YNWA 2 the 96.....

  7. Great piece. It's always such an emotional experience singing YNWA at Anfield. Thinking of those we've lost and bellowing our pride in the team - especially this season. Sunday is going to be more of the same, win, lose or draw. JFT96

  8. That came right from the heart...touching....Wish Liverpool would secure the BPL title

  9. Wir stehen immer mit Liverpool. 96.

    Bayern stands with you. Always. 96.

  10. I sang it together with around 88.000 Liverpool fans, when Liverpool came to Jakarta..it's very emotional. Can not imagine if i sing YNWA with thousand of Liverpool fans in Anfield. Wish someday...

  11. What utter rubbish, do not let the truth spoil a good fairytale.

  12. Fascinating story! Great respect from Lisbon.
    Can't wait to support Benfica at Anfield!

  13. I wonder if fears ever really go away, or if they just lose their power over us.

  14. My uncle who has sadly passed away was the dj in question. This article is pretty much spot on. The only bit missing was he meant to actually play ferry across the Mersey as it was a double a side. Instead you'll never walk alone was born

  15. My uncle who has sadly passed away was the dj in question. This article is pretty much spot on. The only bit missing was he meant to actually play ferry across the Mersey as it was a double a side. Instead you'll never walk alone was born

  16. having an argument with a "friend" who said this was originally sang by Tottenham where she get that from?