Given that it was an American singer, Neil Diamond, that originally wrote and performed the song Sweet Caroline, it seems something of an odd choice to be one of England’s footballing anthems. Despite its American origins though, it has recently cemented itself as one of the big hits for both the men’s and women’s national sides. How did this come to be though and does any other fan base regularly sing the famous lyrics of “good times never seemed so good”?
Sweet Caroline Origins in Sport
Neil Diamond released Sweet Caroline back in May 1969 so it is far from being a recent hit. It proved quite popular in the US, peaking at number four in the Billboard Hot 100. When released in the UK, it reached as high as number eight in March 1971. So, this was a pretty popular song but far from one that made any big impression on the music industry. The song itself was something of a tribute to John F Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, who was 11 years old when the song was produced. Diamond did actually intend for the song to be about his wife, Marcia, but her name didn’t quite fit the rhythm vocal line.
A respectable chart performance seemed to be the end of Sweet Caroline’s brief stay in the spotlight. The situation changed in the 1990s, however, thanks to the Boston Red Sox who reportedly played the song at a match in 1997. The claim is that the track was played at Fenway Park because a colleague at the baseball team (or someone an employee knew) recently had a daughter named Caroline. So, as a tribute to the newborn, the song was blasted out but there were no plans for it to be a permanent fixture at Fenway.
Although it did not feature at every Red Sox home game, Sweet Caroline would be played out on occasions where the fans seemed in a particularly good mood. In 2002 though, the situation changed as the Diamond hit went from an occasional celebratory anthem to one of the songs on the regular stadium playlist. The reasoning behind it was not born out of a love for Diamond himself, rather Dr Charles Steinberg, new executive vice president of public affairs, believed the song could have a transformative effect on a dreary crowd.
His intuition proved to be correct too and the 1969 track quickly became a fan favourite at the east coast stadium, regularly played in the middle of the eighth inning. The scoreline at the time was largely irrelevant as even when losing, melancholic fans would join in with the infectious tune. Diamond even performed the song live at Fenway Park in April 2013, a time when the city was still suffering from the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing.
According to Diamond himself, Sweet Caroline is “a song to celebrate good things, and it seems to bring good luck to those who embrace it. It’s also a song of unity and can bring together even the fiercest of competitors.” Many sporting fans would agree with this as it has been sung at so many stadiums since the Red Sox adopted it as one of their own anthems. Fans of the Northern Ireland national team have been shouting it out long before England ‘borrowed’ it, going as far back to a friendly versus Switzerland in 2004 (although they did change the lyrics to Sweet Northern Ireland).
This is not the only instance either, Manchester United fans were spotted singing it in 2015, Arsenal played it after a 2017 FA Cup semi-final win while Aston Villa have tried to claim it as their own song. Its spread is not limited to football either as you can hear the tune at certain rugby matches, darts events and even at boxing bouts. Because it is not strongly linked with just one club, it is quite uncontroversial when a fan base decides they want to start signing it.
When Did England Fans Embrace Sweet Caroline?
Sweet Caroline’s simple beat and catchy lyrics have seen it become such a popular sporting anthem but what specifically triggered England fans to embrace it? For this, the credit must go to Wembley DJ, Tony Parry. Before playing Germany in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020, the DJ just had a feeling that Sweet Caroline would resonate with the crowd. So, instead of playing the classic ‘Vindaloo’ as originally planned, he opted for the American soft rock song which even got the Germans singing.
Parry’s spontaneous decision, one that was shaped by the world slowly re-opening following the global health crisis, proved to be a huge success. So much so in fact that it left Harry Kane speechless in his post-match interview and even had the players singing along. Even boss Gareth Southgate conceded that “You can’t beat a bit of Sweet Caroline!”. From this point on, the song stuck with England for the remainder of the tournament, before their heart-breaking defeat to Italy in the final.
The opportunity to sing it loudly again did not prove to be long away though as the Lionesses proved a formidable squad in the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022. When beating old enemies Germany in the final and lifting the trophy for the first ever time, Sweet Caroline boomed out of the stadium speakers. Both players and fans joined in for what was a heartwarming moment for all involved and even those watching on TV.
There is nothing to say that England fans will keep singing Sweet Caroline for decades to come but it does appear to have established itself as one of the key anthems of the playlist rotation. Once this happens songs usually do not fully disappear as even the likes of Three Lions by the Lightning Seeds, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, released in 1996, still does the rounds before major tournaments.