You’ll Never Walk Alone
At halftime of the 2005 Champions League Final in Turkey, Liverpool Football Club found themselves down 3-0 to highly-touted AC Milan, an insurmountable deficit by all soccer standards.
As the team took the field for the second half, they were greeted by the Merseyside faithful with a rousing rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,”--the team’s anthem since the song was first covered by the Liverpudlian rock band Gerry and the Pacemakers, in 1963.
“Walk on through the wind,” they sang. “Walk on through the rain / Though your dreams be tossed and blown. / Walk on, walk on / with hope in your hearts, / And you’ll never walk alone.”
Less than ten minutes into the half, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard found the back of the net. Six minutes later, the score was tied, and Liverpool would eventually win in an overtime shootout in what would be called “The Miracle of Istanbul.”
One of the most striking aspects of soccer matches in Europe is the singing; while not sung only by them, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has been linked most profoundly to my favorite professional soccer clubs: Glasgow Celtic and Liverpool. The song is cherished by the local fan bases of those teams, perhaps because its words of encouragement, resilience, and solidarity have resonated with the groups--largely Irish in ancestry and Catholic--who for generations faced prejudice and suspicion because of their exceptionally close connection to a foreign country and their religion.
It is a song that was sung at Liverpool’s Catholic cathedral in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy in which 96 people were crushed to death at a game in Sheffield and by frontline medical workers in the first frighteningly uncertain days of COVID in Britain.
And it’s the song I was able to reference in a pregame talk before last year’s soccer state final. In retrospect, it is a talk that would have been more appropriate this year. For the first time since, I believe, 2008, the Wildcats went into the state soccer final as underdogs. Their opponent, Archbishop Moeller, was ranked #1 nationally and had not given up a goal since they surrendered one in their first match of the season. The Cats were young, and most of the players were inexperienced.
And they went down 1-0 in the first half to a side that boasted the best team defense I have ever seen in 30 years of coaching.
Mike McLaughlin ‘85 has been rightly lauded for his tactical brilliance as a coach. No one devises game plans and adjusts to other teams better than he. But his real genius has been to instill in his boys a sense of brotherhood and loyalty. In what I will argue was his finest season as a coach, Mike--and his staff--built a team of players who fought like furies for each other because they could not stomach the idea of letting each other down.
In the closing minutes of the game, with hope among those in the stands perhaps waining, a substitute, sophomore Bryce Ince-Lovelace, scored a brilliant header from a ball delivered by his captain, Nick Mikulec. Later, in the crucial penalty kick shootout to decide the game, senior captain Colin Monroe, needing to make at least one critical--and exceedingly difficult--save, stood alone.
Except he wasn’t.
As his teammates finished their penalty kicks, they went over to Colin and offered him words of encouragement. As he worked his way to the net, he didn’t walk alone. He had his brothers with him.
Colin didn’t save a goal that day. He saved two: a herculean feat. In his moment of greatest stress, Colin marshaled his skills, his confidence and the love of his teammates. He saved the game…and, with his teammates, became a champion.
When they needed each other most--in the most challenging game of their lives--the men of the St. Ignatius soccer team were there for each other. And if history is any indication, they will continue to be for the rest of their lives.
In good times and in bad.
In the musical, Carousel, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” comes at a point in the play where the character Nettie Fowler sings it to offer comfort and support for her cousin, Julie Jordan, as Julie grieves the sudden death of her husband. It’s a poignant scene--one that never fails to raise a tear--and its power comes from an unstated reality: our deepest fear is that when faced with moments of pain, frustration, grief, or anxiety, no one will be there with us. The beauty of the scene is that Julie is not alone, and as she is unable to sing the words, Nettie picks up the tune. I’m convinced we can face any difficulty or danger--as well as any triumph--so long as we know that we don’t have to do it alone.
Catholic theology speaks of the principle of communion: the reality that our way to God is mediated through other people. In other words, while we can and must have a personal relationship with God, we also need each other’s strength and support to get to Heaven. Most of us learned about God from our families. It was the sacred writers who gave us Scripture and helped reveal the Lord to us. The saints in Heaven intercede, instruct, and inspire us to be the people God has made us to be.
And we can call on them when we are in need.
I’ve long called for “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to be played and sung at St. Ignatius games--certainly at soccer matches--as it so well embodies the spirit of brotherhood and solidarity we want our students (and their families) to experience. Because that’s the beauty of being part of the Ignatius, and more importantly, the Catholic family: surrounded by sisters and brothers in the Faith, all the angels and saints, and the God Who is Love, whatever uncertainties and difficulties come in life:
You’ll never walk alone.