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Monday 11 December 2017

'When you walk through a storm...': The story of 'You'll Never Walk Alone'

Graham Clifford traces the unusual history of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and the 50th anniversary of a No 1

An anthem in the making: 'You'll Never Walk Alone' composer Richard Rodgers with Iva Withers and Stephen Douglass, rehearsing for 'Carousel'
An anthem in the making: 'You'll Never Walk Alone' composer Richard Rodgers with Iva Withers and Stephen Douglass, rehearsing for 'Carousel'
The Shankly Gates in Liverpool

Graham Clifford

It's a cold December's evening and I've no nails left to bite. Liverpool stand on the verge of bowing out of the 2004/5 Champions' League unless they score against Greek outfit Olympiakos.

In the 86th minute, a ball is played on to the head of Neil Mellor, he nods it down for Steven Gerrard and the Liverpool captain let's fly to send his side through, and the Kop into euphoria.

From behind us we hear it first. You'll Never Walk Alone ripples through the stand in seconds before spreading to the rest of the ground. Large round men, pensioners and visitors from overseas place arms around each other's shoulders as they belt out the lyrics with tears in their eyes.

Later that season, Liverpool would win the Champions League and the song would fill the air in Istanbul.

It's 50 years ago this week since the musical number-turned-football anthem first reached the number one spot in Ireland. It knocked Blue Bayou by Roy Orbison off the top spot and stayed there for five weeks.

In June 1985, it was a chart-topper again for one week, when it was released as a charity single following the Bradford City stadium fire tragedy.

Recorded by the Liverpool band Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1963, the song had actually been doing the rounds for two previous decades.

In 1945, it was on the score of the musical Carousel with American composer Richard Rogers coming up with the music and Oscar Hammerstein II adding the lyrics.

Gerry Marsden, lead singer with Gerry and the Pacemakers, won an argument with his manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin that they should do their own version of You'll Never Walk Alone – though the song had already been covered by, amongst many others, Frank Sinatra.

"I remember going to the cinema in Liverpool to watch a Laurel and Hardy film and this song came on – it blew me away and made the hairs stand on the back of my neck. From that moment, I was determined we'd cover it," Gerry Marsden told the Irish Independent this week.

"The reaction to our version was tremendous from the very start. I mean, we had no idea it would become so iconic – it was a lovely bonus. It's the lyrics and emotion that make it so important to people."

Gerry recounts how You'll Never Walk Alone became the Liverpool FC anthem: "It had been in the charts and played at Anfield, then when they stopped playing it, the fans chanted 'Where's our song?', and so it was reintroduced there, and later by Celtic football club, as their anthem."

Sung at every Liverpool match, at weddings and funerals (it's the seventh most popular song at funeral services in the UK), it has followed Marsden around for most of his life.

"I never tire of singing or hearing it. How could I? Any time we've performed it over the last 50 years, including in Ireland, the audience join in immediately, they know every word.

"I can't believe it's been half a century since we recorded it. It feels like we were in the studio putting down the track yesterday."

For Liverpool and Ireland legend Ronnie Whelan, it gained added significance following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, when 96 supporters of the club lost their lives during an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield.

"Around the time of Hillsborough, it was played a lot more because the lyrics were so relevant. Everyone wanted to support the families.

"I remember the first game we played after the tragedy was against Celtic in a memorial game up in Glasgow. The two sets of supporters sang You'll Never Walk Alone and, though I'd heard it sung so many times at Anfield, that version will stay with me forever – it was so powerful."

It's thought that the song became an anthem at Celtic after they faced Liverpool in a European Cup Winner's Cup semi-final at Parkhead in 1966.

And in Germany, it's long been a fan's favourite. Borussia Dortmund supporters sing it 10 minutes before kick-off at every home fixture.

The words 'You'll Never Walk Alone' now gleam in gold block capitals above the stadium gates, and for those who played to its rhythm, it has lost none of its magic over the years.

"Nothing compares to it as a football anthem. It was amazing to run out on to the field hearing it and seeing the scarves on the Kop – it's hard to describe how moving that was," says Ronnie Whelan, who spent 15 years at Anfield.

"Even now when I go back there, if I'm working in the media section or as a supporter, it still gets you. It's unique, uplifting and emotive."

Irish Independent

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