YNWA: German docufilm poignantly depicts history of Liverpool’s famous anthem

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This Is Anfield’s Chris Williams went along to the premiere of the You’ll Never Walk Alone documentary in Essen, Germany, this week.

“This anthem is a signal, it is easy to understand and it unites the people in a moment” – nobody gets You’ll Never Walk Alone better than current Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Witnessing the song at FSV Mainz 05 and Borussia Dortmund before he arrived at Liverpool, he knows the impact it can have on the players who shine under its charm.

We all know the words, we all know the personal impact it has on us as supporters but how many of us know the history of the song, its origins and just how it went from a musical theatre score to the best-known anthem in world football? This is where the documentary film ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ comes in.

Directed by Andre Schafer, this German docufilm charts the rise of the song: from the 1909 Hungarian play Liliom, to its adaptation by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and finally to a by-chance viewing by Gerry Marsden – the rest (as they say) is history.

Starting in Budapest, Hungary, the film describes how novelist Ferenc Molnár created the play Liliom and looks at the protagonist of the same name and his struggles in love. YNWA then charts Molnár’s emigration to the United States to escape persecution as a Jew in wartime Europe.

From there the focus is how Rodgers and Hammerstein turned the play into the worldwide smash hit film Carousel – fascinatingly, an interview with dancer Jacques d’Amboise, who starred in the 1956 film adaptation, shows him in shock as he is told how the song has gone on to become an anthem on terraces such as the Kop – “what, this song? at soccer matches? No I can’t believe that.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 24, 2010: Liverpool supporter and singer Gerry Marsden sings "You'll Never Walk Alone" before the Premiership match against Blackburn Rovers at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It was with surprise that the film details just how YNWA ended up a cult song on the Kop. Gerry Marsden was a massive Laurel and Hardy fan, he had gone to watch one of the old comic duo’s films and decided it was so good he wanted to see it again. He made the decision to sit through Carousel, as the Laurel and Hardy film was repeated afterwards. Marsden describes how he thought it was rather a boring film until he heard the opening line of the now famous song – “what a tune it had, and the lyrics… brilliant.”

Brian Epstein wasn’t keen, but eventually, Gerry got his way and recorded his version of the song. It went straight to number one when released in 1963 and was soon played over the public-address system at Anfield, where it has remained ever since.

From a Borussia Dortmund perspective, the film shows the inception of the club; from a small flat in Dortmund to its home at Signal Iduna Park and how the song was adapted to fit the Sudtribüne and its 24 thousand inhabitants. How they came together in one voice after news of the death of a supporter inside the stadium.

Crucially and poignantly though, from a Liverpool angle, the film beautifully portrays what the song means to the club, the city and the fans across the world.

Initially focusing on the Champions League Final of 2005 it quickly switches to that other memorable European night: the Europa League quarter-final between Liverpool and Dortmund last year.

Klopp describes in detail how the stadium drew in that fourth goal, the lyrics and meaning behind the song were encapsulated in three seconds deep into injury time as Dejan Lovren powered the winning header past Roman Weidenfeller – the Dortmund keeper was in the audience for the premiere, as was Marco Reus, goal scorer on the night. A penny for their thoughts as they relived the dramatic drama on a massive screen!

The film though is about more than football, as assistant Director, Jascha Hannover, explained to This Is Anfield: “It would have been easy to make this film just about the song, in fact, it could have been done in three or four minutes, but we wanted to explore everything and that included the events of 1989.

Damian Kavanagh and Adrian Tempany, both survivors of the pens at Hillsborough, told their story to a silent and gripped the audience. Visibly moved the German audience gave them both a standing ovation once they were invited onto the stage at the end of the film.

“Damian and Adrian were key to the story of the film,” said Hannover.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, April 15, 2014: A Liverpool supporter holds up a scarf 'Justice' during the 25th Anniversary Hillsborough Service at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Sitting in the audience it was moving to see how Florianfilm had depicted the events at Hillsborough and the boycott of the paper that slurred the city in the aftermath. Accurately, and with brevity, the handling of such an emotive subject has been done with uttermost respect.

Joachim Krol, is the German actor who charts the story of the song and the impact it has on the footballing world, he goes on to meet Campino, the lead singer of German rock band Toten Hosen – a massive Liverpool fan.

The two of them meet at Anfield and Campino describes the similarities of both cities, Dortmund and Liverpool, but he focuses in on the strength of mentality of the city and how the song fits the city, not just the club “can you imagine a city in Germany boycotting Bild for 28 years? There is a strength of character here that is far greater.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 13, 2011: The Hillsborough Justic Campaign shop on Walton Breck Road, organising a renewed campaign to boycott the Sun newspaper, before a Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There will be many across the Liverpool sphere who know the story of how Gerry Marsden’s song was adopted but this film perfectly captures its full history. It was an encapsulating watch, and with English subtitles, it will be one to watch for many fans.

With a journey from its origins in 1909 to its use across world football today, You’ll Never Walk Alone delivers on everything, the song’s character and how it touches every single person who sings it – be that on the terraces, or as a comforting reminder of a justice served, a loved one or a brother remembered.

It is hoped that the producers can find an English distributor or partner for a UK release. It would be a crying shame if this film wasn’t made available to the millions of Liverpool fans across the world. Also for those in the city of Liverpool not to be able to see just how wonderfully and beautifully the German crew have depicted our city would be a massive shame.

When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky and the sweet silver song of a lark…

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