Our theme for the month of September is Alphabet Soup. Each writer was assigned a letter and will title their post “___ is for ___.”
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone
YNWA, as you may have guessed from the words above, stands for “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” These lyrics originated in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, but they were popularized by a 1963 recording of the song sung by the Liverpudlian band Gerry and the Pacemakers. Shortly after the single was released, the song became the anthem of Liverpool FC, and to this day it’s played over the loudspeaker before kick-off of any Liverpool home match. While it plays, 54,000 strong hold banners and scarves aloft as they sing along. It’s a spine-tingling moment, and one that even some opposition players and coaches have come to savor.
Sometimes, especially after incredible victories, the players and fans will also sing the anthem together after the match. For example: in May 2019, without two of their best attacking players, Liverpool overturned a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona in the semi-final of the Champions League. Afterward, the whole stadium sang a heartfelt rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” If you watch the video, you’ll notice the passion with which Liverpool supporters and players sing the song, and even the tears welling up in some eyes.
“You’ll Never Walk Alone” has extended beyond the song into the very DNA of the club. It shows up on Liverpool FC’s official crest, on their jersey, and on almost every piece of merchandise they wear or promote. YNWA has become not just a club motto but also a statement of identity, mission, and vision. In 2018, an Irish Liverpool supporter named Sean Cox was brutally attacked as he walked to Anfield (Liverpool’s home stadium) for a Champions League game against Italian side Roma. Quickly, Liverpool FC fans and supporters began a fundraiser for his recovery, created banners in his honor, and held charity matches with all the proceeds going toward his care. In these moments, YNWA isn’t only sung or shouted; it’s lived.
I’m not writing this to convince you to become a Liverpool supporter, though you should. Nor do I really want to overemphasize the liturgical parallels between Liverpool fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at Anfield on Saturday and Christians singing “In Christ Alone” in worship on Sunday. Many have already pointed out that sporting arenas are essentially temples of worship. I just want to point out the basic goodness that YNWA represents and offer it to all of us, Christian or otherwise, as a sign of something simple: hope.
Sure, hope in the collective power of human beings joined together for the common good. But more than that, too. Hope in the challenge to do the things we commit ourselves to doing. For the church that means preaching the gospel, caring for the poor, receiving and showing grace, loving our neighbor. If a soccer club can sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and then, for the most part, follow those words with action, Christians (read: I) can say “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,” and then live that out. Right?
I’m often discouraged by this world, and by the church. YNWA encourages me and gives me hope for the world and for the church. Maybe that’s naive or overly optimistic. But since I’m prone to cynicism at times, I’ll take it. You’ll never walk alone.
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.