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Take a chant on me, a British footballing art

‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ has regained its place as Liverpool’s fans favoured anthem especially since the Hillsborough tragedy according to Tim Marshall, author of a book on football chants © AFP / Paul ELLIS

LONDON, United Kingdom, May 29 – Whether Liverpool are winning or losing a minute from time in Saturday’s Champions League final with Tottenham Hotspur a rendition of their emotive song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” will reverberate round the stadium in Madrid.

It will be competing with their opponents’ anthem “When the Spurs go Marching In”, but according to Tim Marshall, author of “Dirty Northern Bastards, Soft Southern Bastards — The Story of Britain’s Football Chants”, it is the song that originates from the 1945 musical Carousel, not as many believe the 1963 Gerry and the Pacemakers hit, which will have the hairs standing up on the back of many fans’ necks.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” is most closely associated with Liverpool — though Celtic fans sing it as well — and has made a comeback among their fans.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone is definitely back at Liverpool, especially post-Hillsborough,” Marshall told AFP, referring to the 1989 FA Cup semi-final when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death.

“The lyrics refer to higher noble aspirations and, if you have lost people, it essentially says ‘hope springs eternal in the human heart’.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone is the one of the two anthems that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck as it’s just that massive identification with the club, that long history.

“The fact scarves and flags go up with it at the same time makes it also a visual thing.”

Tottenham Hotspur fans will belt out ‘When The Spurs Go Marching In’ though some may be blissfully unaware it is about The Apocalypse © AFP / Glyn KIRK

Spurs’ chant is also sung by Southampton supporters, re-worded to “When the Saints Go Marching In” — “Leave them to argue over that one,” says Marshall — and is another to cross the Atlantic.

“‘The Saints Go Marching In’ dates back to the 1800s with the lyrics about the Apocalypse,” said Marshall.

“It is about saints marching through the gates of heaven and fire and brimstone as the world is destroyed, and claps of thunder.

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“The version as we know it dates back to New Orleans jazz. 1920s jazz became very popular here in the 1950s and took hold in football — it is another English football chant that comes from the New Orleans jazz explosion.”

– ‘Feeling of community’ –

Come what may, though, no matter what the score spectators inside the Metropolitano stadium and TV viewers will be treated to a singing contest.

“Liverpool fans always begin to sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ a minute before the end of the game,” said Marshall.

“They will sing it in a different vibe depending on whether they are winning or losing. If it is the latter it won’t be mournful, it will be resigned.

“If Liverpool have won it will be ‘hey world, this is our song’.”

Marshall, formerly foreign editor at Sky News, says while supporters of clubs abroad also sing, it is Britain that sets the standard.

“I think they (British football fans) were the first to sing and then to chant which goes all the way back to the 1920s,” said the 60-year-old Englishman.

“It came into its prime, though, in the popular culture of the 60s — everyone knew the songs.

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“The British not only pioneered it but also are the best at it for the range of songs, chants, imagination and humour, you name it.”

They are a discerning crowd too. Fans of Wolverhampton Wanderers rejected the great English composer Edward Elgar’s tribute to the team, “We’ll Bang the Leather for Goal” — rather ungrateful given that he used to bicycle 48 miles (77 kilometres) from Malvern to watch them play.

– ‘Nothing like it’ –

West Ham anthem ‘Forever Blowing Bubbles’ like Liverpool’s ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ stems from a Broadway musical © AFP / Oli SCARFF

Marshall, who cites West Ham’s “Forever Blowing Bubbles” and “Goodnight Irene”, Bristol Rovers’ mournful tune by three-time jailbird Lead Belly about love and suicide as other American songs to have been adopted by supporters, says fans do not think twice about singing along with thousands of others as he does week in week out with Leeds fans.

“That feeling of community and togetherness and identity and tribalism is very strong,” he says.

“It feels ethereal. On really big nights it is tangible, it’s as if you can feel it.

“Ethereal doesn’t create another degree of existence, that would be going too far, but it creates another dimension inside that bowl or stadium which the outside world has nothing to do with.

“This encased mix of sounds, vision, noises, smell and another thing created by belief, passion, is what hangs in the air and everybody feels it almost telepathically.

“It is special, there is nothing like it.”

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