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Why is Neil Diamond’s mega-hit ‘Sweet Caroline’ so intoxicating for sports fans?

There’ll be a few certainties at the Euro 2024 tournament this summer – from the pints of warm lager tossed in the air with each goal scored, to the agony and the ecstasy of a penalty shootout – but nothing is more categorically, definitely going to happen than the complete and utter rinsing of Neil Diamond’s 1969 hit ‘Sweet Caroline’ in the pubs, clubs, and fanparks across England.

The story of the track’s rise to maddening ubiquity for English sports fans is a well-documented one: at Euro 2020, following England’s comprehensive 2-0 win on home turf against their imagined eternal rivals Germany, Wembley DJ Tony Perry was tasked with amping up the party following the customary post-match spin of Baddiel and Skinner’s England anthem ‘Three Lions’. Despite initially reaching for ‘Vindaloo’ by Fat Les, he decided that “it had to be ‘Sweet Caroline’ … it just felt right”, Tony recounted to the Daily Mirror in 2023. His instinct proved correct. The stadium, predictably, erupted in a chorus of “BA BAAA BUM”, and the song became a sort of unofficial anthem for the remaining games of the tournament. By the time the Lionesses won the Women’s European Championship the following year, the song had cemented itself fully into the English psyche – today you can’t go an evening in a provincial town without hearing someone fumbling their way through it on the karaoke.

It’s not just English speakers who are enraptured by ‘Sweet Caroline’’s simple melodies and uplifting message. In 2009, Austrian singer DJ Ötzi – of ‘Hey Baby’ fame – released his version of the track, the video of which features a fervent crowd of ruddy-faced Europeans singing along to every single word. Belgian football fans were filmed warbling the chorus at Euro 2016. The Bayern Munich squad made Georgia Stanway perform the song as part of her initiation into the Frauen-Bundesliga side. It is, clearly, a song that transcends borders.

Of course, its popularity amongst England fans is just the latest chapter in the song’s long sporting history. In America, both the Carolina Panthers of the NFL and the MLB’s Boston Red Sox – whose DJ started it all by playing the song at Fenway Park back in 1997 – blast it out at every home game. Northern Ireland’s football fans have been singing it since 2005, and Reading FC began using it following their record 106-point Championship season back in 2006. Arsenal, Aston Villa, Wales and Scotland have all belted it out at one time or another. Away from the pitch, boxing promoters Matchroom play it before their fights, while Tyson Fury loves to serenade the crowd with it.

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