NO point going on about how the Reds are flying and we’re going to win the league this week?
So, for today’s column I thought I’d cover something different and discuss the evolution of the singing of You’ll Never Walk Alone, which is the subject of an upcoming production by FLORIANFILM who were visitors to The Anfield Wrap studios this week.
In particular, I wanted to deliberate the way the song’s use has changed — not necessarily for the better — over recent years at Anfield.
The standard, which began as part of a Hungarian theatre piece in the early 20th Century, before featuring as a consoling lament in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel (1945), has been the recognised anthem of Liverpool FC since 1963 when Gerry Marsden’s adaptation of the song hit the top of the UK charts.
Pre-match entertainment at Anfield in the 60s featured the top 10 records of the week and often The Kop would sing along, especially to catchy Beatles numbers, but the ‘Pacemakers’ tune was a particular favourite. When the song eventually dropped out of the charts the crowd demanded its return and the rest is terrace history.
The sweeping strains of YNWA accompanied Liverpool’s greatest nights and days across three decades under Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish as The Reds conquered all comers at home and abroad. The swaying throng of humanity that was the standing Kop — with unspoilt red and white bar scarves held aloft — quickly became the most famous sight in football.
Born to The Kop during the Shankly era, YNWA is synonymous with the great man and was the backdrop to title-winning scenes in 1973 when Shanks stooped to pick up scarves cast as garlands to an unequalled adoration from supporters.
The Kop was probably at its most colourful and passionate during the 60s and into the 70s, when trophies were still a relative novelty to Liverpudlians. By the early 1980s, match-going culture had changed and in days before replica shirts brought a different sense of colour, the Kop — now gorged on success — evolved into an amorphous, colourless mass.
To compensate, amid harsher economic times, a sharper, post-punk sense of dress allied with cutting sarcasm, scathing wit and acerbic abuse for everyone ranging from the opposition, referees, the police, even sometimes the Liverpool players, were the order of the day as the fans behind the goal developed their own unique brand of football ethnicity.
The crowd still rose to the occasion when it mattered, particularly on the formative European nights, but the scarves gave way to flags — often of the continental persuasion resultant of a different culture experienced on Kopites’ foreign excursions. Favours of vanquished European opponents adorned a Kop which had developed an inimitable Scouse swagger in appearance, word and deed.
You’ll Never Walk Alone would still be sung with gusto — but only to greet the presence of Europe’s most famous names, or as the prelude to a battle royal on the home front.
The pre-match ritual of YNWA played over the tannoy rightly continued but largely fell on deaf ears for routine fixtures.
For the League Cup, with 9,000 inside the ground — forget it. Coventry at home in the League in front of half-full stadium — not arsed. Over to you, Gerry, while I have another drag on this spliff.
Once, towards the end of 1984-85, the BBC planned to film the Kop “singing” their anthem before a league game against Newcastle — for the Match of the Day opening titles the following season. Despite George Sephton’s pleading the lads on the Kop “do their utty” (utmost), an anarchic crowd blanked it altogether. Barely anyone sang along. A fella in front of me held up a programme in lieu of scarf; a lad to my right raised the empty foil tray of his meat pie.
Kopites rule and don’t you forget it.
Marsden’s anthem was used sparingly, to signify the big occasion and put naked fear into the opposition, but reserved only for the continent’s most famous names and the Reds’ domestic bitterest rivals.
During the game, the renowned hymn would serenade the great comebacks (witness the Kop in full cry against Everton in 1969 as Liverpool overturn a two-goal deficit) and instantly salute the monstrous triumphs; like in Rome after Phil Neal’s clinching penalty in 1977.
At Wembley in 1986 when Ian Rush’s second goal secured the iconic League and Cup double, the Liverpool end, primed for the biggest of occasions, suddenly bloomed into a sea of red flags and banners to belt out the hymn.
Times had changed and YNWA wasn’t so omnipresent, but when the Reds chimed into its beautiful melody, the iconic chant carried every ounce of its old resonance.
YNWA sung by Liverpool fans was intrinsically a chant synonymous with victory; of defeating the odds, a celebration of many a magical conquest. Occasionally, but only in the most apt of circumstance it would be chanted in defiance, but seldom in consolation; although an airing at the end of the FA Cup Final in 1988 was more of a nod to the greatest of seasons, than lamenting a shock defeat to Wimbledon.
You’ll Never Walk Alone knew its place; its power, or more to the point — the fans knew it, felt it, sensed it and used it at the right time.
In Istanbul, the half-time battle cry — or was it a show of desperate pride — 2,000 miles from home and trailing 3-0, now has its place in Liverpool FC folklore. The glorious Ataturk rendition at the end, with Liverpool crowned Champions of Europe for the fifth time, was entirely in keeping with the magnitude of the occasion — and the scale of the achievement.
In sharply contrasting, tragic circumstances after Hillsborough in April 1989 a lone choirboy’s chilling interpretation in the Liverpool Catholic Cathedral attached a different, heartbreaking sentiment to what is undeniably Liverpool’s sacred song. 27 years on, the same anthem warmed the chill air outside St George’s Hall when Accidental Death verdicts were overturned after a struggle the word valiant does scant justice.
Times have changed again.
Nowadays, with a full house every week, even down to early round League Cup ties, YNWA is trotted out each home game, routinely accompanied by the big flags at the front of The Kop. It’s still quite nice — even if my view from the Kop is interrupted half-way through, as the big surfer flag passes over our heads and we feel like we’re camping inside Mike Ashley’s smelly underpants.
The stands join in with scarves aloft, though I’m not sure everyone is singing along. And, as Rob Gutmann resident of these pages and the Upper Centenary recalls, some fans are a little off beam with the words — even if “and don’t be afraid of the dog” has a certain charm.
A big rousing rendition of YNWA before every match isn’t exclusively a bad thing in setting up an atmosphere. But, what distinguishes between Northampton at home and Real Madrid? Not much to be honest, bar a few extra flags and few higher octaves when the League Cup kids are sat excluded at home watching on BT Sports or SKY TV.
What sets the big occasion apart? What makes the players think, “Jesus, this is a big one; the fans are up for it tonight.”?
I have only a minor gripe with regard to the above. However, what really gets my goat is the now embedded determination to pipe up a half-hearted YNWA (from the back of the Kop; and you know who you are) at every single home game circa 88 minutes, regardless of the opposition, the scoreline, the importance of the game; or whether or not I need a piss. There is plainly no context to this, merely “try-hard” wool behaviour of the first order.
It is also simple overkill, completely at odds with our cherished history, trivialising football’s greatest song.
What are you going to do if some day we’re 4-0 down on 88 mins to Everton? Are we still singing YNWA then? The same dickheads who sang YNWA before the whistle when we lost 3-0 to West Ham last season, then booed the team off seconds later. The song was never interpreted as a latter day “we’ll support you evermore”, which was the preserve of Second Division Manchester United goons.
Do we really need to be singing YNWA to round off a win against mighty Hull? Do we need five renditions of YNWA against the behemoth that is Carlisle United (before the match, on 88 minutes, start of extra time, half-time in extra-time and before penalties) in the third sodding round of the League Cup? No we don’t thanks; it’s just embarrassing.
If being completely inorganic and ignoring the context of the actual match in front of us isn’t bad enough, this recent, utterly jarg trend has become akin to the sounding of a Pavlovian bell triggering a mass exit.
I’m convinced there’s some Nantwich dickhead watching the stadium clock tick from 87 mins 59 seconds, then piping up, “When you walk…” before slithering down the steps of Block 306 wearing leather driving gloves, ready for the off and a massive shit reading the programme in the bogs at Knutsford services.
I don’t care if you have to bookend your precious matchday experience with a limply delivered YNWA before the game is out. If this is now Anfield tradition — and I fear it is — then for once tradition can do one. George Sephton used to be the arbiter on this, putting the needle to Gerry’s record perhaps once a season, at the final whistle after a famous victory. Arl George has been around a while, so can we leave it up to him?
I accept that cultures, by their own definition, grow and change. My own childhood and teenage dreams have been well and truly “tossed and blown” over the years. You can call me an old cynic all you like but I’m right on this one.
Can we try and leave our precious anthem with some vestige of relevance? Can we please protect football’s most iconic recital; leave it with the capacity to make hairs stand on end and not kill it stone dead?
Or maybe we just replace it with the theme from televised Darts?
See you at Swansea.