Besides the original in the 1945 musical Carousel, the song You’ll Never Walk Alone has been recorded by many artists, with notable hit versions by greats as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Andy Williams, and Doris Day. But it’s the Liverpudlian Merseybeat band Gerry & the Pacemakers version of 1963 that is played at Anfield Road before each home game.
The song has become synonymous with football, being sung at clubs like Dortmund, FC Twente and Club Brugge. The tune is so well known that it’s unavoidable to sing along. I know I always do.
But the irony is, being wheelchair user, I cannot walk a single step…!
When my family moved from Holland to Yorkshire in 1969, I was not even three years old. The world was a small place then and the English football League a remote blob on an island. Uninfluenced by club-happy parents, choosing a team was like throwing darts. Living near to Hull, City was an obvious choice, but never a serious one in those days. So most of my friends supported Leeds United. My brother must have fallen on his head or something, as he elected the Gunners. But for me it became Liverpool. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it was the bright colour red. Maybe it was the magnificent playing style. Maybe because they won trophies. Or perhaps because I liked the song…
Whatever the reason, to this day, I’m through and through Liverpool, even though I moved back to The Netherlands in 1983 and now live in Belgium. I will block my agenda to ensure I watch live games, I will visit pubs to see a game when abroad and I will listen to crackly, long-wave reception of radio 5 in the car if all else fails. I’ll wear a Liverpool jersey in silly superstition. I’ll even check the scores during a wedding or funeral. I’m nuts about the club. But luckily so is my wife. And my son…
As I grew into my teens, football became my life. Every nook and cranny of the three walls in my bedroom were covered with Liverpool posters. I remember being disappointed when my mother refused me to hang them on the ceiling! Each week, when I received Match magazine, I’d be on the hunt for a picture to blue-tack on the wall. Why not for four walls I here you ask? Well a piece of me also dreamt of driving a BMW and having a Charlie’s Angel lie next to me.
My first earned money bought me a Realistic Chronodate-210 digital clock radio from 1977 and I would cuddle in bed listening to Liverpool’s ventures on Europa cup nights. I still have the clock today!
I played football for South Holderness Comprehensive on Saturdays and I played for Preston Juniors on Sundays. At school we’d leave the girlfriends on the touchline and play on the field during lunch. After school we’d dump our bags in our homes, change and then cycle to Burstwick primary school to play footie until it turned dark. And then early July I became ecstatic when I received a letter in the post, inviting me to county trials football.
Then a week later it happened.
When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
It was Sunday 12th July, 1981, the day of my
parents wedding anniversary, but to be honest, the relationship wasn’t tight at the time and didn’t survive. Moments before, my father had offered to play a round of tennis, but instead I had preferred to spend the afternoon climbing trees with friend Gaz.
Being a perpetual achiever, I wanted to out-climb him, but unfortunately I went too high and the branch broke. Before I knew it, I was down on the grass with what felt like a brick beneath my back. They scooped me up and sent to Hull Infirmary after which I was forwarded to the rehabilitation centre of Pinderfields in Wakefield. The verdict? Vertebrae thoracic 12 and lumbar 1 were knocked out of the spinal column, severing the spinal cord. I would never walk again for the rest of my life…
At the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky
And the sweet, silver song of a lark
I spent more than seven months in rehabilitation. Only after three months was I allowed home for the weekend. The first 10 weeks were spent flat in bed to allow the spine to heal and the body to adjust the new situation. While my father felt compelled to earn as much money as he could in this understandably scary and seemingly disastrous situation, my mother would visit every day, without fail, come rain, snow or sunshine.
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
During those first critical weeks, my mother sent a letter to Liverpool FC explaining her son’s plight. So imagine my surprise when in the summer of 1981 she received a package from the club. It was the number 10 shirt of Terry McDermot with his, and all my other hero’s signatures; Ray Clemence, David Johnson, Phil Thompson, Phil Neal, Kevin Sheedy, Colin Irwin, Alan Kennedy, David Fairclough, Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hanson, Jimmy Case, Bruce Grobbelaar, Sammy Lee, Graeme Souness, Steve Ogrizovic, Mark Lawrenson, Craig Johnston, Ronnie Whelan, Steve Nichol, Ian Rush and the great man himself, Bob Paisley.
I felt so honoured.
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone
Next to my rehabilitation bed, my mother spent hours and hours embroidering over the pen twirls with great precision and today, the shirt still hangs proudly in our house.
Regretfully I have been to Anfield only twice. Both times against Arsenal. The first was in 1979, 7th of April with Dad, Duco and my brother: 3-0. The second time was in 2010, 15th August with my wife and son during a North England stadium tour holiday: 1-1.
But I’m going again…!
In just over a week, I’ll be in Liverpool for the Watford game on the 8th with a best friend Marcel. Another football nutter, though he’s one of the Feyenoord kind (yeah Dirk Kuyt!). I just know that when the first chords of Gerry start playing that I will do my voice in, and cry my eyes out. It’s inevitable. Such a moving song, bathed in tradition resounding from the the Centenary stand, the Anfield Road end, the Main stand and of course The Kop. There’s a tear in my eye already just thinking about it!
And the renditions over the years, one more impressive than the other. Like when the respectful supporters join in, such as those of FC Dortmund on 14th April this year before that spectacular 4-3 Europa Cup night.
But this week was probably the most moving I’ve ever seen. During a vigil, thousands gathered before Liverpool’s St Georges Hall and sang You’ll Never Walk Alone in tribute to the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster. The day before, a jury had ruled that the victims on that fateful 15th April 1989 were unlawfully killed. Crushed to death as Sheffield police continued to herd fans into the pen of the stand. Hats off to the next of kin who continued their fight for justice of the 96, and all those that supported the cause.
Finally, after 27 long years, justice prevailed, truth won and perseverance paid off. I’m extremely proud to be associated with Liverpool as they undoubtedly and unequivocally have the best following in the world.
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone…
I know I’ll never be able to walk alone, but I don’t need to.
I have Liverpool…