Sep 09

THE CROWD – “You’ll Never Walk Alone”

FT + Popular115 comments • 6,788 views

#551, 15th June 1985

Band Aid and USA For Africa had established one form of the charity single: a stellar alignment. The biggest names available, coming together on a solemn and unique occasion, performing a specially-composed song that spoke to the magnitude of the situation. This was all fine but it couldn’t scale down. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” set out a more typical working model – a shock troop of names, a just cause, a song everyone knew.

And so it is that John Otway, Motorhead, Kenny Lynch, Rick Wakeman, Peter Cook and many more* find themselves on a #1 single together. For all that most of the musicians making up The Crowd were pretty unfashionable, the very name of the group underlines that this wasn’t about individual profile raising. It was a shocked and rapid response to an immediate tragedy – the Bradford City stadium fire – and unlike the blockbuster charity hits we’ve discussed it’s hard to find too many cynical motivations for this one, and why would you want to look?

Well, at a mean pinch you could raise an eyebrow at organiser Gerry Marsden’s song choice: it’s not just Liverpool fans who sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” but the track has no particular associations (that I’m aware of) with Bradford City. As a song of solidarity, though, “YNWA” clearly works, and its proven value lies in the kind of mass singing a record like this requires. The earliest songs sung on the terraces were – so the legend goes – hymns, and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” fits that bill too: sung by thousands it’s an article of faith, and at the same time the proof of that faith. And it’s only fair to mention that like any ritual – particularly in the era of the football club as global brand – there’s always a danger of it being packaged and exploited as kitsch.

If anything then, there’s too much soloing on this recording, and too small a crowd: it’s not horrible to listen to but it doesn’t stir the emotions either. It sounds cheap and hurried, and in charity terms those are positives, even if the result ends up like a group of football fans gathered round a cruise ship Casio. Like most charity records from this point it did its job then discreetly shuffled to the back of the collection, becoming a tiny part of a disaster’s wider story, and leaving no mark on pop’s.

*It’s worth pointing out that my only source for the line-up is Wikipedia, and of course anyone can add anybody into that: caveat lector.



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  1. 101
    thefatgit on 3 Mar 2010 #

    Not much to add here, apart from we’re 5 years away from the point where football and popular culture become irreversibly fused. These are the swansong days of the working class game, before it’s rebranded as “The Beautiful Game”. The class distinctions within society of the ’80s are less firm than ever with social mobility becoming part of the Tory agenda. Football will become the chief beneficiary as new money begins to swamp the upper echelons of the game. Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough will force transformation of old and delapidated stadia. The weak will fall by the wayside and the strong will only become stronger. There will be insurmountable divisions between the haves and the have-nots.

    The “Bulldog” sellers at Stamford Bridge were figures of disdain and derision for most. There were a small collection of individuals who would “seig heil” from The Shed End at games and lob bananas at Paul Cannoville, Chelsea’s first black player. Most of these morons were to fade away into embarrassing memory. Of greater concern were “The Chelsea Headhunters”, elements of that firm can still be seen around Fulham Broadway on matchdays still. The Chelsea of the ’80s were a basket-case club, lurching from one crisis to another. Avaricious developers circled around Stamford Bridge like vultures, after the Mears family were forced to sell the club and the massive debts that came with it to Ken Bates for £1. Bates fought on 2 fronts to save the ground and the club from extinction. It was a time when Chelsea were on the back pages of the redtops for all the wrong reasons. The hooligan element kept at bay by THAT electric fence, that threatened to alienate the loyal supporter. Lack of silverware and quality on the pitch, meant the Blues were London’s least fashionable club, a far cry from the swaggering Kings Of The King’s Road of the ’60s and the multi-millionaires of today.

    Those lads off the Clem Attlee estate, the Battersea boys, and those who travelled in from Sutton, Kingston, Surbiton, Woking and Guildford, Latchmere, Cortez and Mickey Greenaway (RIP) skanking to “The Liquidator”, represent for me, from my Chelsea perspective, the time when football belonged to ordinary fans like me. Supporters of other clubs will have similar reminiscences, but most will agree that when The Crowd reached #1, it heralded the end of the working class game and the seed of the corporate monster was sewn.

  2. 102
    rosie on 3 Mar 2010 #

    thefatgit @ 101

    Not much to add here, apart from we’re 5 years away from the point where football and popular culture become irreversibly fused

    You mean where the captain of the England football team enters into marriage with a member of a high-profile girl group? Nah! We’re more than a quarter of a century past that!

  3. 103
    thefatgit on 4 Mar 2010 #

    Rosie, you misunderstand. Think Italia 90. Bunny is watching so I can say so more.

  4. 104
    rosie on 4 Mar 2010 #

    I’m getting old, thefatgit, and I’m afraid that when I recall Italia ’90 what comes to mind is the third act of Turandot, which is of no interest to Bunny, and England making heavy weather of a game against Cameroon. And, as it happens, of spending a weekend on a groundbreaking (because Internet organised) narrowboat tour of London waterways.

  5. 105
    thefatgit on 4 Mar 2010 #

    Allow me to jog your memory, without incurring the wrath of the Bunny:

    ex Watford and Liverpool centre-forward with a penchant for rockin’ the mic…oops, may have said too much!

  6. 106
    rosie on 4 Mar 2010 #

    Erm, you’ve got me there. Are you thinking of a chap with the same name as a Thamesside community near Richmond? Is he bunnyable? I shall have to wait and see, I expect.

    I still think pop and football were fused on the day when, the Everly Brothers (and not the Beverley Sisters) being number one with All I Have To Do Is Dream, Billy Wright of Wolverhampton Wanderers and England married Joy Beverley.

  7. 107
    AndyPandy on 4 Mar 2010 #

    FatGit @ 101

    As a boy growing up along what is now the Western corridor of the M25 Chelsea hold a special place in my memory as they did for so many other working-class kids from London and the Home Counties.

    From at least as early as the second half of the 60s right through to the time we’re talking about every satellite town within about 40 miles of central London in a westerly direction had a “Chelsea mob”. Actually most of those towns would also have fans who would faithfully get the train to travel to West Ham, Spurs, Arsenal but nothing like the numbers or the hold that Chelsea had. I reckon back in the ’70s where I lived about 75% of all grafitti mentioned Chelsea/CFC etc!

    I was always an Arsenal fan (comes from being 6 when they’d just won the double) and used to go to Watford with my dad, uncles etc but used to keep up with Chelsea because another uncle who lived with us for a bit was a regular at Stamford Bridge – in fact he managed to get a football in a cabinet signed by all the glory early 70s Chelsea team to raffle for the local team he played for which was proudly displayed in our house for a couple of weeks – he bought half the raffle tickets to win the thing too to no avail.Before my football memory really starts I was told when Watford drew Chelsea in the semi-finals of the 1970 FA Cup there were major ructions in the family!

    But yes to me Chelsea WERE football in some ways in my neck of the woods in the denim jacket and knotted scarf days of the early 70s and thats why even as a non-Chelsea fan it pisses me off when people possibly in an effort to show how much of an “authentic” supporter they are go on about Chelsea fans all being post-Abramovich glory-hunters when anyone who really knows football knows that they were getting mid-30,000’s crowds before the Russian millions arrived and although not winning much compared with certain other teams had been looked on as a “big” club for decades before he arrived (even when along with Leeds sniffing around the lower (old) 2nd division with also like Leeds very low early-mid80s crowds).

  8. 108
    thefatgit on 4 Mar 2010 #

    Spot on AndyPandy! I got into Chelsea as soon as I could kick a ball, all because my best mate had a telly and watched the 1970 cup final at his house. His family were Leeds fans, but I was wearing blue that day and I am reminded by my mum that I was brought back home that day singing “Blue Is The Colour”. My recollection is hazy, but I was glued to the radio in our house when Chelsea won the replay. That was it, Blue for life, for better or worse.

    My dad is Plymouth Argyle, and it always annoyed him I didn’t follow suit.

  9. 109
    AndyPandy on 5 Mar 2010 #

    My dad originally being from the Wiltshire also followed Swindon and although I don’t remember him going to the Chelsea/Watford semi-final
    I have quite clear memories of all his side of the family coming up to our place in 1969 to got to Wembley for the League Cup final Vs Arsenal (I’ve read articles on this since and it was all this “invasion of the Wiltshire yokels” stuff)and going down town shopping with my mum, younger cousin and aunty whilst the rest went to the match.I’d just turned 4 and that’s probably my first conscious memory of a match excluding the old man watching the Big Match on Sunday afternoons!

  10. 110
    thefatgit on 6 Mar 2010 #

    Small world AndyPandy, my mum’s from Salisbury. My dad’s a Devonian.

  11. 111
    punctum on 16 Apr 2015 #

    The disaster may not have been an accident: http://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/apr/15/bradford-fire-stafford-heginbotham-martin-fletcher

  12. 112
    sbahnhof on 11 Oct 2015 #

    Bloody hell.

    Not a surprise, after the Hillsborough lies and revelations – which had been common knowledge for years. Was there similar public suspicion of Heginbotham in Bradford since the fire? (The claim would be that, allegedly, it was better for him financially that the stand burned down – not that it was intended to happen during a game.)

    There’s been silence from the authorities, as you’d expect. To add to Punctum’s link, a longer interview with Martin Fletcher — http://www.bigissuenorth.com/2015/07/fifty-six-for-247/13164

  13. 113
    sbahnhof on 7 Nov 2015 #

    Fire’s been referred to the IPCC – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/nov/06/west-yorkshire-police-ipcc-1985-bradford-city-fire

  14. 114
    Mark M on 9 Feb 2017 #

    Re32, 46 and many more on class and football (and see also the Caravan Of Love comments).
    1) I’m reading A Short Walk Down Fleet Street by Alan Watkins, political columnist for many papers from the ’50s until his death in 2010. In the mid-’70s, Watkins (then writing for the New Statesman) split with his wife and moved back into London from Surrey. He says he chose a flat in Islington over Barons Court or Battersea because his teenage son – who had opted to live with his father – wanted to be close to Highbury so he could walk to games.

    2) Picking up from what Lord S was saying at #32 – my father was at a funeral recently and met several members of the Cambridge University football team of the mid-’50s. Apparently, a number of the grammar school boys on the team had been on the books of big professional clubs when they were teens, but had gone to university instead because – at that point (when football still had the maximum wage) – they knew they would be much better off as academics or civil servants. I don’t think this contradicts Lord S’s point, so much as stresses how quickly things were changing (10, certainly 15 years on, that wouldn’t have been the case).

    3) My father said that Cambridge had a formidable football team at that juncture, based on those grammar school boys plus a number of chaps from the poshest private schools (Eton, Harrow etc), which still didn’t play rugby at that point, due to the original Victorian schism that led to the codes of the various footballs being written. Why would you play a game named after one of your bitter rivals? Even today, the Eton website talks about rugby as an option alongside association football rather than the main game on offer.

  15. 115
    Kinitawowi on 12 Jan 2018 #

    Wrong incarnation of Motorhead, but we’ll never see anything nearer so RIP “Fast” Eddie Clarke.

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