July 21, 2024

If football fans were made to pay royalties every time they sang the songs or a particular artist, the last few weeks would have been particularly profitable for Neil Diamond.

That’s on the basis of how many times Sweet Caroline has been belted out, loud and proud, by England supporters before, during and after their team’s matches at Euro 2024, despite performances on the pitch not always setting pulses racing.

Diamond’s 1969 hit has become almost ubiquitous when the England football team are playing a big match. And that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

“Sweet Caroline has become a great addition,” says Steve Riding, who has followed England all over the globe, including to World Cups in South Africa, Brazil, Russia and Qatar.

“I was at Wembley for every England game during the last Euros and it helped create a great atmosphere, which isn’t always the case at that stadium. We all want to see the ‘good times’ come round for England and this happy song fits that mood.”

As England prepare for a Euro 2o24 quarterfinal against Switzerland in Dusseldorf, it’s perhaps worth pondering just how a soft-rock anthem written a year before manager Gareth Southgate was born has become the fans’ go-to song.

Football, in fact, was very late to the Sweet Caroline party. Back in the 1990s, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers played the song at every home game, locals seeing the catchy chorus as a near-as-damn-it tribute to their home state of North Carolina.

The Boston Red Sox were next to adopt a song originally penned as a tribute to Diamond’s then-wife Marcia, only for her name to not quite scan, meaning it was replaced with the three-syllabled name of John F Kennedy’s daughter, who by chance Diamond had spotted on a magazine cover.

The song became so entwined with the Red Sox that Diamond appeared at the team’s Fenway Park to perform a live version in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Other baseball teams around the country also played it in solidarity following the attacks.

Sports fans on the other side of the Atlantic took a little longer to reach out. But, in time, rugby league and darts got the Sweet Caroline bug, as did fans of the Northern Ireland football team.

Boxing, too, with Josh Warrington’s legions of fans turning the song into a staple part of big fight nights involving the two-time world featherweight champion.

“It’s a bit of an anthem that goes across generations,” says the 33-year-old, whose home city bouts in Leeds became renowned for a raucous atmosphere, including at Headingley rugby stadium and Elland Road.

“There’ll be a lad my age singing it, plus a teenager, a dad in his late forties or early fifties, and then a grandad in his seventies saying, ‘I remember when this came out’.

“Sweet Caroline was one of those songs played at weddings, Christenings, funerals and birthdays in working men’s clubs around Leeds. So, dads, grandads, mums, nanas, uncles, they all know the lyrics.

“Slowly it started getting used at other boxing shows. Before you knew it, they were using it down at Wembley when (former heavyweight champion) Anthony Joshua was fighting. It became a boxing anthem that then spilt over to the football.”

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