Liverpool is home to some of the most passionate football fans in the world.
And You’ll Never Walk Alone is probably one of the most famous football songs in the world, immediately associated with the red half of Merseyside.
But it seems there is another song that is creeping up the popularity stakes with Liverpool fans. An otherwise little-known Irish folk ballad.
We are asking why do Liverpool fans sing Fields of Athenry? And is it really a Liverpool song?
Let’s take a closer look…
Do Liverpool Fans Sing Fields of Athenry?
Liverpool fans sing an adapted version of Fields of Athenry, called Fields of Anfield Road. It features rewritten lyrics referring to the club’s history. The first two verses were written by Liverpool fan Gary Ferguson and the third verse by local musician John Power. It gained in popularity after it was released as a charity single in 2009 to mark the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough.
The Fields of Athenry – The Inception!
Back in the late 1970s singer-songwriter Pete St. John returned to his native Ireland after a 15-year spell living in the USA.
Shortly after his return, a trip to Galway inspired him to write a song about the potato famine in Ireland. He took the title from the small town of Athenry, 16 miles (25km) east of Galway.
“(It) is a song about the potato famine in Ireland – it’s that simple. I’d gone to Galway and read some Gaelic tracts about how tough life was in those dreadful times”, St. John recounted in an interview with the Scottish Daily Record in 2004.
“The people were starving and corn had been imported from America to help them. But it was Indian corn with a kernel so hard that the mills here in Ireland couldn’t grind it”.
“So it lay uselessly in stores at the docks in Dublin. But nobody trusted the authorities – the Crown – to tell them the truth, so hundreds of starving Irish people marched on the city to get the grain. Some were arrested and shipped off to Australia in prison ships.
“I wrote a ballad about it, inventing Michael, Mary, and a baby – a family torn apart because the husband stole corn to feed his family.
“The ‘Trevelyan’ in the lyric was the Crown agent at the time, he did exist. That inspired the line ‘Against the famine and the Crown I rebelled.
“All this information came from Galway, so I set the song in Athenry, a little Galway village where the potato fields lay empty … the fields of Athenry.”
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The song was a hit almost immediately.
The same year it was written, 1979, Danny Doyle recorded a version that reached the top 10 in the Irish Singles Chart.
Three years later a version by Barleycorn reached number 7 in Ireland. Paddy Reilly’s version released later in 1982 was the most successful, peaking at number 4 and remaining in the Irish charts for 18 months.
Over the years it is estimated the Fields of Athenry has been covered by somewhere in the region of 500 performers.
How Did the Fields of Athenry Become Associated With Football?
As you can see, pretty quickly St. John’s tune became somewhat of an unofficial anthem across Ireland.
It was picked up by some of Ireland’s rugby teams in the 1980s, but it really took prominence during the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
This was the Republic of Ireland’s first-ever appearance at World Cup, and they performed beyond all expectations reaching the semi-finals only to be narrowly beaten 1-0 by the host nation.
The tune was sung with pride by Irish supporters throughout the tournament.
By the early 90s, the song had already crossed the Irish Channel and was sung by Celtic supporters, with Glasgow having a large Irish-Scottish community.
In fact, shortly after the World Cup in Italy, Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Packie Bonner invited St. John to perform the song before a Celtic match.
At the 2012 European Championships, the song was sung with such gusto by Irish fans in a game against Spain that German TV commentators covering the match stopped talking so viewers could listen to the singing! Watch the video above to see the moment itself.
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But Is Fields of Athenry a Liverpool Song?
In fact, the city is often referred to as “Ireland’s second capital”.
Owing to its proximity, it is estimated that 2 million Irish citizens fled to Liverpool at the time of the Potato Famine in 1849.
Most stayed and put down roots in Liverpool, which led to an intertwining of Irish culture and heritage as the year went by.
Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this Irish folk ballad has been adopted and adapted by Liverpool fans.
And adapted is the keyword here.
In the 1990s the lyrics of the first two verses of the Fields of Athenry were rewritten by Liverpool fan Gary Ferguson after he heard the original belted out at a pre-season friendly between Celtic and Liverpool in 1995.
His lyrics saw the character of Michael replaced by Liverpool’s legendary managers Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, and Liverpool greats Steve Heighway and Kenny Dalglish also got referenced.
Over the 1990s and 2000s, the song began to gain traction at Anfield.
It really gained in popularity in 2009 though when Liverpool musician John Power (guitarist in Cast and bass player in the La’s – one of my favourite ever bands), rewrote the third and final verse of the original to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.
The song was released as a single under the title of The Fields of Anfield Road, using the original music but the new lyrics.
It featured vocal contributions from former players Phil Thompson and Bruce Grobbelaar and reached number 14 in the UK singles charts.
So Liverpool fans do sing Fields of Athenry, just with different lyrics.
Celtic fans and Republic of Ireland fans sing it in its original form. In fact, in 2013 the song was played live by Pete St. John before a friendly between Liverpool and Celtic in Dublin.
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Liverpool fans do sing their own version of Fields of Athenry with lyrics adapted to include references to Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Steve Heighway and Kenny Dalglish.
The original and revised versions are shown in the infographic above.
The slow-tempo ballad became popular with football and rugby fans in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s, and with Liverpool having such a strong Irish following it was perhaps inevitable that it would work its way over to these shores.
The original Fields of Athenry, is popular with Republic of Ireland and Celtic fans, along with a number of Gaelic football fans and Irish rugby teams such as Munster and London Irish.
The adapted Fields of Anfield Road is now regularly heard reverberating around Anfield, perhaps second only to You’ll Never Walk Alone in popularity.