I first knew the song from the musical Carousel. A Rodgers and Hammerstein classic that, per usual with that duo, is not all sweetness and light but has some dark and meaningful undertones about what it means to live this beautiful/brutal life. Gut-wrenching, really, with music that gets right under your skin and stays there.
You’ll Never Walk Alone is maybe the most famous chorus from the musical–I first learned it in high school, and I think sang it with my college choir, too. Regardless, I’ve known the words by heart for 25 years now.
What I did not know, until maybe a year and half ago, is that You’ll Never Walk Alone, albeit an edgier, less meticulous, version of it is the anthem of the Liverpool Football Club.
I’m not even going to try to give you a history of LFC. Or explain why they are such an endearing, motley crew of blind-devotion fans. If you really are a curious, here’s a bit on how You’ll Never Walk Alone (heretofore YNWA, per LFC’s way of denoting it) came to be their jam. But I can’t even begin to explain it all–partly because sports-talk has never been my thing (and I can’t even pretend to know all the lingo), but also because I honestly feel like I’m way too new to this party to have any street (pitch?) cred at all in talking about it.
But here’s an example of how deep it runs: over Spring Break, while lounging by a pool in Destin, I saw a man with an LFC shirt on–and I said, “Hey! You’re a Liverpool fan!” And I swear to you, we talked for 15 minutes, and by the time the convo was over I knew his name, his daughter’s name, and that–lo and behold–they were actually from here in Louisville and our kids go to the same school.
I can’t even make that up, y’all. This white Southern woman met and had a lively conversation with a native Middle Eastern man whose child goes to the same school as mine, in another state, because of an English soccer team with super colorful history.
How’s that for global diplomacy?!?
And then there was this past Saturday, where I found myself at a watch party for the final Champions League game at local Irish bar. Liverpool v. Real Madrid. A big freaking deal. We arrived a half hour before game time. And already it was loud. Electric. Barely controlled chaos. Guinness was flowing liberally and bright LFC jerseys and scarves stretched as far as you could see. A friend I hadn’t seen in forever hollered my name over the din and we exchanged greetings, the folks he was sitting with suddenly friends because we were all there for the same reason, and for the same team.
We had to scrounge for seats, and I am eternally grateful to this completely colorful and wonderful Englishman who got us situated, and also grateful for the one bartender who paid any attention to my charming (well, I tried for charming) “two Black and Tans, please” and so helped me get to my seat, cold beers in hand, just in time.
Just in time for YNWA.
I’ve heard about it. I’ve watched videos of LFC fans singing it with their damn hearts on fire at Anfield, LFC’s home. I’ve listed to recordings of it. I’ve heard about it, you know? So I knew it was a big deal. I knew it was a thing.
I was in no way shape or form prepared to really experience it. To feel what it was like for a 100 Liverpool fans to raise their voices in earnest love and admiration for their boys in red in the back room of an old bar, wooden rafters bursting with the reverb of the sound, chills running down my spine, and complete strangers throwing arms around one another in perfect accord.
“…walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown, walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone…”
I was in tears before the first verse was over, completely overwhelmed with the spirit of it, the tightly knit community of it. The raw love inherent in the full-throated singing of the lyrics. I couldn’t move. Could barely breathe. Even as I felt like a bit of an outsider from my own perspective, I knew that everyone around me didn’t feel that about me. I was there. A red LFC scarf thrown around my neck. I was smiling through those tears and it wasn’t hard for us all to catch each other’s eyes, grin big, and keep singing. With all we had.
I promise you, not a damn one of those people cared, in that moment, who I voted for in the last election. Or what I did for a living. Or what socioeconomic status I fall into. Or whether or not I’ve been divorced or broken or down on my luck. Or what color my skin is. Or who I am in a relationship with. Or why I’d even shown up. At that moment, I was part of it. I was theirs, part of something so much bigger than myself, with more history, more far-reaching effect, more momentum, than I could ever muster for anything on my own.
It was the truest, purest form of community I have seen in longer than I can remember.
Liverpool lost the match–in some really heartsick moments. Plus their star player, and the great hope of the entire nation of Egypt for this year’s World Cup, was seriously injured before the first half was over. So it was a somber lot that cleared that bar two hours after we’d sung its roof down–but even the somberness had its sense of togetherness–squeezes on the arm, pats on the back, a head nod from someone I’d just met as if to say, “Glad you were here…next time we’ll get them.” But maybe the best thing were the words LFC’s own captain spoke post game, when, in an interview, he was asked to comment on the mistakes of individual players that perhaps had led to the loss, “We lose as a team,” he said.
We lose as a team.
Damn if the United States of America, hell, the whole world, and even our individual cities, school systems, and churches couldn’t learn a lot from Liverpool Football Club.
A scrappy European football team, drenched in history as fighters, as a tightly knit clan of blood brothers and sisters, their whole hearts poured into their life together. The things they could teach us.
If we cared, at all, to listen.