'So good, so good': How Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline became England fans' anthem of choice (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.

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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.

'So good, so good': How Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline became England fans' anthem of choice (1)

Neil Diamond at Fenway Park in 2013 (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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.

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“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.”

Cricket also joined the party after England’s World Cup win at Lord’s in 2019 but it was another couple of years before Sweet Caroline crossed over into the football mainstream at the delayed Euro 2020.

Supporters have Wembley’s resident DJ, Tony Perry, to thank. For England’s first three group games, the song didn’t feature on a playlist that had to be approved by UEFA in advance.

Perry, however, felt something had been missing. So, before the last-16 clash against Germany, he turned to a karaoke classic that had peaked on release in 1969 at No 4 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States and No 8 in the UK singles chart.

His hunch proved spot on. Not only did Sweet Caroline go down a storm before kick-off, with both sets of fans joining in lustily, but after England’s 2-0 victory too. Perry opted to follow the post-match rendition of Three Lions — David Baddiel and Frank Skinner’s offering with the Lightning Seeds was still the designated and UEFA-sanctioned victory song for England at the time — with a song that literally screams “so good, so good….” rather than the planned Vindaloo by Fat Les proved a masterstroke.

A new England anthem had been born, with even the manager giving his enthusiastic backing. “You can’t beat a bit of Sweet Caroline,” said Southgate in a post-match interview. “That’s a belter.”

'So good, so good': How Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline became England fans' anthem of choice (2)

England’s players enjoy a singsong with their fans at Euro 2020 (Eddie Keogh/The FA/Getty Images)

It was the second tournament in a row when a familiar tune had been adopted by supporters. Girl group Atomic Kitten’s 2001 hit single Whole Again had been given a reworking by fans for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the chorus changed to, “Southgate you’re the one, You still turn me on, Football’s coming home again”.

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This ode to Southgate was given another airing by fans inside the stadium on Sunday evening, along with Hey Jude by the Beatles in honour of England’s goalscorer. Also heard several times during the tournament so far has been the newest addition to the England supporters’ playlist, a reworking of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark.

“Can’t start a fire, can’t start a fire without a spark… Phil Foden’s on fire, he’ll be playing the Germans off the park,” they sang to the tune of the 1984 hit.

If Manchester City star Foden’s form picks up after a slow start, could Springsteen usurp Diamond as the tournament goes on?

“Sweet Caroline has a bit of a feelgood factor to it after Euro 2020 at Wembley,” says Chris Stuart, a long-standing member of the England Supporters Travel Club. “But I prefer the Springsteen song about Foden. I hope we hear more of it at the Euros.”

Knocking what was effectively a love letter to Diamond’s wife from its No 1 spot won’t be easy. Not least because there’s something intrinsically appealing about the song in a sporting context.

First, there’s the simplicity of the melody itself and how even those not overly familiar with the words can join in. Then there’s how those lyrics are unashamedly upbeat.

“Good times, never seemed so good..” may not have been written with football in mind. But, like many sporting anthems purloined from elsewhere such as You’ll Never Walk Alone (originally from the musical Carousel before being picked up by Liverpool fans in the 1960s), the sentiment strikes a chord with fans of the game.

“Sweet Caroline is a song that everyone knows so they all join in,” adds loyal England fan Riding. “It’s also harmless as a song that unites fans. Maybe that’s why you get opposition fans joining in from time to time, like what happened with the Germans at Wembley.

“Every time it gets played, home or away, the whole place just erupts.”

'So good, so good': How Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline became England fans' anthem of choice (2024)

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