You’ll Never Walk Alone: The Song that Continues to Inspire

Gerry and the Pacemakers might not be a musical act familiar to many people these days, but football fans will have noted the death earlier this week of the group’s lead singer Gerry Marsden at the age of 78.

Marsden and his group were from Liverpool, part of the same Merseybeat scene as The Beatles and others. It was during this era that fans at Anfield began singing popular songs of the day. One song they adopted was the Pacemakers’ version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein number You’ll Never Walk Alone, the original version of which featured in the 1945 musical Carousel.

The group took the song to number one in the UK charts in 1963 and the song soon began to be heard on the terraces at Anfield, mainly due to being the work of a local artist. The song would soon take on another life and become part of the sporting folklore of not only Liverpool but also Glasgow and the whole of the UK.

In the early 1960s, Liverpool as a city was about to become a cultural capital, largely thanks to The Beatles, as well as other acts like Gerry and the Pacemakers and Freddie and the Dreamers. But Liverpool FC was also entering the early days of an era that would be like no other in the club’s history and would last until the early 1990s.

Shankly the great Scot

The great Scot Bill Shankly was rebuilding the club based on the kind of socialist values and beliefs that the song seemed to express. Shankly is rightly revered at Liverpool, and he was the first in a line of managers that would later take the club to the heights of European glory in the 1970s and 80s.

The song, with its rousing exhortations to “walk on, walk on” through the storms that life throws our way, touched a chord with a city where the principles of solidarity and community spirit are so fundamental to the place’s culture and history. It soon became a fixture of match days at Anfield, with the club’s famous Kop becoming synonymous with the song.

You’ll Never Walk Alone is now sung before every home game at Anfield, and it usually makes an appearance during away games too, often close to the final whistle when the Reds require an extra boost to get them over the line to victory. The song’s lyrics have even been incorporated into the club’s badge.

One of its most iconic renditions came in 2005 in the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul at half time during the Champions League final between Liverpool and AC Milan. The Reds were 3-0 down, but produced one of football’s most famous second-half comebacks to win the game on penalties.

The song has been used a stirring anthem on other occasions too, especially at commemorations for the Hillsborough disaster. In 2009, at a concert to mark the 20th anniversary of that dark day in Sheffield, Marsden led a stirring rendition.

Other clubs have adopted the anthem too. Current Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has stated how inspiring it is to hear it sung at Anfield, so it is appropriate that two of his former clubs Borussia Dortmund and Mainz seem to adopted the song. So have Feyenoord in the Netherlands and, perhaps most famously, Celtic have too.

The Bhoys’ support produces its own rousing version of the song before games at Parkhead, especially on European nights, and the air of the east end of Glasgow crackles with passion when they do so. Glasgow and Liverpool are very similar cities, with a heavy influence from Ireland, and there is definitely a touch of Gaelic sentimentality about the way the song is sung on Clydeside as well as Merseyside. The same values of solidarity and defiance, as well as sentimentality, are being expressed.

Solidarity between Merseyside and Clydeside

The 2003 UEFA Cup quarter-final between Liverpool and Celtic demonstrated just how much power the song possessed. Performed by Marsden himself before kick-off, the sound of both sets of fans uniting in singing along brings chills to the spine, whoever you support.

Sometimes sport and culture combine to create something unique, iconic and lasting. Marsden’s legacy may not be the same as the likes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney when it comes to songs, but his performance of You’ll Never Walk Alone has proved as lasting and inspiring as anything The Beatles produced.

For all of us, whatever club we support, the song’s lyrics perhaps offer some light during a dark time for the world. At the moment, it does us all good to remember that: “At the end of the storm / There’s a golden sky / And the sweet silver song of the lark.”


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