Shoulder To Shoulder

On Tuesday the world moved closer to apocalypse when the bus carrying the BVB Borussia Dortmund team was attacked by three bombs on the way to its stadium for a Champions League quarter final match against Monaco. This violent invasion of sports breaks new ground because the Champions League is a top-tier sporting event of worldwide interest. This hasn’t happened since the Munich Massacre where eleven Israeli athletes were killed in the 1972  Olympics. In 2010 the bus carrying the Togo team was shot up on its way to an African Cup of Nations match and three members of the support staff were killed, with eleven others wounded. But most categorize that as the kind of thing that happens in the “Third World” and in fact is part of the definition of Third World — places that are insecure, lawless, uncivilized.

Now that kind of violence is here.

No one was killed in Dortmund but a key BVB player, Marc Bartra, was hospitalized for injuries caused by flying glass from the bus windows, and there are reports of shrapnel hitting a headrest on the bus. Christian Pulisic, among the top the US players in the world, was on the bus.  

The game was postponed until the next day. The BVB players seemed to still be feeling the trauma from the attack, and lost at home 3-2, probably putting them out of the tournament. But before the game, BVB and Monaco fans joined in singing soccer’s classic anthem, the iconic “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Monaco and Dortmund fans join together


It was a gesture of true solidarity, another proclamation that terror will not scare us, it will not separate us, it will not succeed in turning us against each other. The lyrics are uniquely pertinent to moments like these:

“Walk on through the wind

Walk on through the rain

Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on

With hope in your heart

And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone”

The song originated as a show tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. But it from has been chanted on football terraces since the 60s when Liverpool’s Gerry and the Pacemakers covered it.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” spread across Europe, becoming a fan favorite with clubs as diverse as Glasgow’s Celtic and St. Pauli in Germany. It was famously sung during half time during the Champions League Final in 2005, the Liverpool players heard the fans from their locker room, trailing three-nil. Liverpool tied the game in the second half and went on to win, in one of the most thrilling final matches ever seen.

Another version marked the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster where 96 fans died in a stadium collapse caused by negligent overcrowding of the grounds. The fans in the stadium will never forget the dead.

And again with this week’s rendition in Dortmund, the message was clear: we are not afraid, we will not be defeated, we are together in this.

The podcaster Taylor Rockwell of the Total Soccer Show said,

“ . . .  just the way that the Dortmund fans and Monaco fans, Dortmund and Monaco as clubs, the police, everyone, has responded, it did the opposite of what was intended. Obviously it was intended to scare people to frighten people to make people less certain about the  people around them, it seems it’s done just the opposite. There’s been a sustained Twitter campaign for Monaco fans to stay the night with Dortmund fans, so they don’t have to pay for additional accommodations. there’s been tons of photos of people out at bars together , mostly in Dortmund fans homes or apartments, having some drinks, eating some spaghetti . . . it’s had the opposite effect of what was intended. And that’s why I like soccer, it is the global language, it brings people together, You can talk about in pretty much any country with any person. . . It transcends.”

The Boston Globe ran an article entitled, “The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.” It explains that loneliness among American men is on the increase, and it causes health problems, even early death. For some reason, men are not finding the time to maintain friendships, whether it’s the demands of the nuclear family, the stress of living beyond their means, or the desolation of suburban life, something there is that does not like the walls we are creating between ourselves and our neighbors.

The article explains “Beginning in the 1980s, Schwartz says, study after study started showing that those who were more socially isolated were much more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected neighbors, even after you corrected for age, gender, and lifestyle choices like exercising and eating right. Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of Alzheimer’s. One study found that it can be as much of a long-term risk factor as smoking.”

Most soccer teams have their origins in collectives. The primary origin of teams is geographic; players from the same neighborhood band together and go play kids from a few streets over. Other teams come from common interests: Flamengo of Rio was originally a yacht club. Factory and other work teams are another common origin. There’s still a semi pro team here called Bethlehem Steel. Perhaps the most popular word to insert into  team name is “United.” Originally this term would come into play when two teams merged, the new team would declare that the two were now together by adding “United.” It’s so popular some clubs use it for their new name, even when they never joined with anyone else: the two newest teams in MLS are Minnesota United FC and Atlanta United. It’s a cool-sounding word for a soccer team.

Because the team starts with commonality. The franchise name frequently contains the initials “FC” — football club. Now, the fans aren’t just individuals, they are members of the club, They belong, they have a membership card, the card records how long you have been there, usually there’s a number that corresponds and the lower the number the longer you’ve been there.

Standing side by side, looking out at the world together

Attending matches together is an optimal activity for men to bond over. The Globe article continues, “When I was talking to Richard Schwartz, the psychiatrist told me something that had me staring off into the distance and nodding my head. Researchers have noticed a trend in photographs taken of people interacting. When female friends are talking to each other, they do it face to face. But guys stand side by side, looking out at the world together.”

Men in conversation stand beside each other looking out at the same view. Literally we have to find companions who “see things the same way as we do.” Just as we do when we go to the football game. We can stand shoulder to shoulder with comrades, seeing the same event, supporting the same side, and we know we are not alone.

Whether through terrorist acts or just the everyday tedium of life, isolation kills. Who seeks to isolate us, to control us, or demoralize and dispirit us, will find that our shared experiences in soccer reconnect, revive, and resurrect our hope. And with hope in our heart, we’ll never walk alone.

1965 – one of the earliest versions 

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