You’ll Never Walk Alone
photographs by Janette Beckman
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.
“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 who’s 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 it’s 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.
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’s 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 1800s 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.
LFC fans have a unique sense of community, which not surprisingly emanates from the Liverpool club and fans in the U.K. 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. 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. 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.”
And though most teams have cheers and anthems, nothing compares to the intensity of the LFC fans breaking out into song through 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 Alone is 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, 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 it’s won us games. And not only it being sang 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. As daft as it is, it’s much more than a song. 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!