YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE
Ceremony. Observation. Ritual. In the end, all ways we lather, rinse, and repeat. Culturally, that is. We talk endlessly of communities, families, peeps, and posses; all ways of expressing identity and describing your tribe. We as a society need these occurrences, these remembrances, these acts of repetition that remind us of who we really are. Because in this lonely and isolating world, all we have is each other and finding common ground on which to mark the passage of time fulfills our most basic human need: belonging. And so with the curious case of the seemingly disparate faces, yet shared spirit of the stateside fandom of the Liverpool Football Club, we ask, how can there be such a devoted fandom to a team that never wins? Playing a beautifully and thoroughly un-American sport? And representing a city known for the Beatles and not much else? And yet its international fandom has been steadily growing since the team first played an exhibition game at Yankee Stadium in 1946 and accidentally wound up on the Ed Sullivan Show twenty years later with their fellow Liverpoolians, Gerry and The Pacemakers.
In his new piece, Joey A.X. takes us down the rabbit hole and into the mindset of the true believers. “How a soccer club thousands of miles away could mean so much to so many seems a travesty at first take. But step back, and the Manet becomes clearer. This is not just any collection of cleat wearers. This is a wildly unique compendium of castoffs whose time has finally come, it seems. Add the narrative they represent under the banner of LFC’s rich history whose Molotov cocktail of ingredients are in equal parts screaming glory and gut-wrenching heartbreak, and it makes even more sense. The Reds are the kings of anxiety and anguish on a level perhaps only known to Red Sox and Cubs fans prior to the last few years stateside. The hard charging us vs the world chip on the club’s shoulders is also the yoke carried by its fans around the globe. To support this club is like being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed amphetamine salts as a remedy. Perhaps it’s no wonder then that its stateside supporters have gone from a handful of pint pounders in scarves to a full-blown coterie that no longer operates in the shadows of dank pubs."
And that rabbit hole is deep. "To understand the cult that surrounds LFC one must first understand the historical roots of northwest England where the city is found. It’s a hard-nosed, blue-collar, salt of the earth region if nothing else. Dockworkers and Irish Catholic laborers built the city with sweat and blood, a stark contrast to the elevated poshness of London. Liverpool’s culture, Scouse dialect, and soul is beyond unique. As often is the case in such places, the Balls-And-Bootstrap theology would go on to create a community of underdogs who would welcome you with open arms but not hesitate to clench a fist. That same underdog heart is exactly what’s unifying across the globe for all races and creeds who make up the LFC family. It resonates most deeply in the northeast corridor of the USA, where optimism, rebellion, and revolution run in the blood. Anfield Stadium, the club’s home since the late 1800's may be located in Liverpool, but its magic extends across the pond laterally to the port towns of Boston, New York, New Haven, and Philadelphia." Along with several thousand pints of Guinness. Read Red Or Dead here.
In her new story, photographer Janette Beckman captured all the drama of watching the fans up and down the east coast enthralled in that kind of constant agony/ecstasy, as well as the love and camaraderie the clubs form around. As expat, Scouser, and true Liverpoolian Rob Glover puts it, “I think Liverpool is a special club in terms of its identity. When you start digging deeper and looking at the different cultural layers, there’s no other football club in the world that has the same story and has the same passionate fans globally as we do. I’d go tooth and nail with anyone, I’d stand toe to toe with anyone, and defend that until I was blue in the face ‘me-self. You know, there’s something so uniquely special about Liverpool fans." And the teams ability to keep growing its fandom without holding any title since the presidency of George H. W. Bush is a testament to the strength of its underdog spirit. "Again the city of Liverpool, the history is one thing, but then there’s also a kind of angst coming from the story of us never winning the coveted Premier League title. It’s a big part of it too. We haven’t won that since ’89." See all the pictures here.
"But I think just the sheer passion and the history of our team is something that people gravitate towards naturally. It was me and ‘me grandfather when I was a kid. It’s that kind of family mentality, it’s something that you just did. You’re around the pubs, they’re sneaking you a pint, or maybe a lager shandy. A little bit of lemonade on top. It’s that feeling of a family oriented club. I’d say family first and foremost. And it goes ‘right the way through, that’s your mums, your grans, your sisters, your aunties; everything revolves around that. The family feel is something that is deep rooted in our blood. I’d definitely like to say you cut me open and I bleed Liverpool Red. I mean that’s truly what it is. There’s a passion like no other. It is a way of life.” Watch the video here.
And with any growing scene comes an ecosystem of not just fans and players, but all sorts of expressions of that fandom to serve. Because as Kara McGinley finds in her new piece, where there is a subculture, there tends to be someone ready to make a fanzine, that often stapled together collection of scores and pictures and random info that serves and connects fans—in this case those of all English Premier League soccer teams. Currently, New York is the only city with its own weekly print soccer ‘zine, which is no small feat considering it is distributed to every soccer pub you could think of. Hangin’ in the East Village or downtown? You can find a First Touch at 11th Street Bar, The Barleycorn, The Irish American, and Lilly O’Brien’s. More of a Midtown person? Hit up The Long Hall, Jack Demsey’s, Slane, or Legends. Out in Queens for the weekend? Look no further than Irish Whiskey Bar, Shillelagh Tavern, or The Brewery Bar. Watching the beautiful game in Brooklyn and want an entertaining and insightful footy read? Head to Banter, Iona, The Monro Pub, or Blackhorse Pub. We could keep going, but you get the point. Read First Touch here.
And of course, you can find copies of First Touch at Carragher’s and The Boot Room where our Liverpool loving Kopites congregate. As founder, editor, and publisher Dave Witchard explains, “The big inspiration for me was a magazine called When Saturday Comes, which was an English soccer fanzine. And I guess because I grew up in that culture of punk 'zines, the sort of DIY thing, that it was just a hobby I already had. So, it started as a photo copy. I think I ran off 10 copies and took it to one pub called McCormack's and threw them around." It grew organically. And although the New York connection is a huge part of the First Touch ethos, the company has progressed with the times. “It’s great that we’ve been able to keep it going all these years. You know, we have great writers and interesting articles every week. But it’s also a resource for where and when to watch the games. On the mobile app, we update it daily with TV schedules, when and where the games are on and what channels. We also have a soccer bar finder app, so no matter where you are you can find the nearest good soccer bar in New York and all over America. So, it’s useful as well as entertaining.”
As are Liverpool fans themselves. Because even as most teams have cheers and anthems, nothing compares to the intensity of the LFC fans breaking out into song throughout the whole match, ending and beginning with a shared verse of You’ll Never Walk Alone, with more than a few rowdy chants in between—all very funny and surprisingly emotional. “As daft as it is, You’ll Never Walk Aloneis much more than a song." Glover explains, “Swaying and singing together, it became our anthem. It was etched in our hearts, minds, and memories. If you think of the lyrics, it truly is our battle cry. And even soccer stars who have not played for Liverpool but had played at Anfield Stadium against them, remember walking down that tunnel, and hearing You’ll Never Walk Alone blaring, and however many thousand fans there were in that church, singing out at the top of their lungs. I mean, it’s intimidating. And it put players off. But I can definitely tell you that it’s won us games. And not only it being sung at the beginning of the game, but also towards the end of the game, when it just starts ringing out to ‘ya, and all of a sudden it bubbles out of this silence in the crowd. There’s nothing like it. Liverpool just holds that little bit of mystique. It’s a mixture of football, music, humor and all those things coming together. When you’ve got all that, it’s for sure a Liverpool fan that you're talkin' about.” Allez! Allez! Allez!
All images by Janette Beckman for the Culture Crush
And won them games it has. Yes, that song has won them games. We know it sounds strange, but no, it’s not just another superstition. Phil Thompson, center back from ’71-84’ even passionately told to us so. “Just think about the time during the 2005 Champions League final. Three nil down to halftime. And we won? We won against an Italian team? The Italians were supposed to be the best, the team who does the best defending. They defended so unbelievably well. And yet, Liverpool came back from the absolute dead. Because of that song! They came back from the fans singin' You'll Never Walk Alone ! It was half time and we were down three nil and all the fans started singing their hearts out. And we came back! We won! Now who does that? Who does that? Nobody. And that is why that magic happens with Liverpool Football Club. That song!”
And though that song,You’ll Never Walk Alone, was composed by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for the 1945 American musical Carousel, it wasn’t until almost 10 years later when Liverpool natives Gerry and the Pacemakers recorded their own version that it was changed forever. The group, Gerry Marsden, his brother Fred, Les Chadwick, and Les Maguire, had an ongoing rivalry with The Beatles early on in their career, often playing the same clubs in Germany and England. What the two groups had in common besides management was nicknamed the “Liverpool Sound,” which was a fusion of rock and roll, doo wop, R&B and soul, and was eventually labeled Mersey Sound.
In 1964, Gerry and the Pacemakers were in New York to make their television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, where they were to perform You’ll Never Walk Alone.Funnily enough, it just so happened to coincide with when the Liverpool Football Club was in town to play a few friendlies. Gerry, being a lifelong Scouser and therefore bled Liverpool Red, decided to make a cheeky suggestion. He said to Ed Sullivan, “You know, the Liverpool Football Club are here in the city, what do you think about getting them into the studio for a recording?” Ed Sullivan agreed, we like to think, enthusiastically.
When the players came in the next day the song was performed on air and their legendary manager, Bill Shankly, actually went on stage during the live filming of the show with the team in the audience and sang You’ll Never Walk Alone right beside Gerry and the Pacemakers. At the end, Bill Shankly went up to Gerry and said, "you know, we gave you a football team and you've given us a song." And ever since then, You'll Never Walk Alone has been sung before and after every game at Anfield Stadium. Whether they win or lose, Liverpool FC and its supporters will never walk alone. So walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart. And you’ll never walk alone!