Though it’s not entirely his fault, Neil Diamond should never be forgiven for Sweet Caroline.
Diamond committed many crimes against musical artistry. This was his most egregious, because it got loose and is running amok.
It was bad enough when the song was the exclusive eighth-inning property of the crowd at Boston’s Fenway Park. The first time you sit through 40,000 New England hosers drunkenly waving their arms around during pop music’s creepiest lyric (“… reaching out, touching you, touching me …”), you have already been scarred for life. After 10 exposures, you’re trying to figure out if you should first put the fork in your ear or your eye.
Now the song has started to spread, like an aural fungus.
In recent weeks, it became the de facto anthem of the England national women’s soccer team. England’s formerly favourite soccer song – Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home) – was just as bad, but at least it was designed for purpose.
Then the English men’s team blew it against Italy at Euro 2020. After a disastrous shootout in the final, Italian Leonardo Bonucci grabbed hold of the first camera he saw and began repeatedly shrieking, “It’s coming to Rome!”
After that, nothing can ever ‘come home’ in England ever again. Things can go home or return home or head home, but the words “coming” and “home” must remain unconnected forever.
So Neil Diamond took over. Sweet Caroline has two advantages – even if you’ve never heard it before, you can sing along to it because it is a Sesame Street song; and since it is not local, it has plausible deniability. Whenever England blew it again, the song could not be to blame.
For a good while during Sunday’s Euro final between England and Germany at Wembley, you knew how this was going to end. England would be the better team. It would take the lead. And it would lose on penalties.
That’s the way things work in European soccer. England good; Germany better. Women, men, children, dogs wearing soccer uniforms – it doesn’t matter who’s playing. England is as good or better and Germany wins.
Following along from a distance, you could feel England’s national identity coming to rest on this team’s back over the past couple of weeks.
When the tournament started, people talked about it as a post-COVID watershed moment for the women’s game in Europe. England was host and wanted to show well for the movement. Early coverage tended to focus on attendance numbers and TV ratings. There was a cheerleading aspect to coverage that seemed forced.
England was among the pre-tournament favourites, but it is also England. No one actually believes it will win anything, especially the English.
As it tends to do, the bandwagon started to fill up during the knockout rounds. By the time the Lionesses faced Sweden in the semis, they were a cultural phenomenon. After wins, they’d sing Sweet Caroline with the crowd, emboldening Bostonians to think they are to the 21st century what Vienna was to the 19th.
Winning is only one part of what makes great teams iconic. To cross over from a sports fixation to a general obsession, there must be a single, shared, transcendent moment that links all viewers. What’s the Raptors’ run in 2019 without The Shot?
The Sweden game was a 4-0 rout, but it provided that moment. England’s Alessia Russo had a golden chance in front of goal that she nailed straight into the goalkeeper. It was a terrible miss. A lot of players would have thrown up their hands in a great display of frustration. But Russo chased her own rebound as it skipped away from the net.
With her back to goal and two Swedish defenders on top of her, Russo back heeled the ball through the ‘keeper into the net. Cue pandemonium. It wasn’t the greatest goal scored in the women’s game, but it may turn out to be the most memorable.
Russo’s transcendent moment sent the England team into the cultural stratosphere in her home country and beyond. Celebrities piled into social media to claim their piece of the team.
The timing was optimal – the final up next, with five days of lead time to fill in newcomers. That it would face Germany was almost too perfect.
The Germans had never lost a men’s or women’s Euro final. England had never won one.
Like most finals, it was tense and nervy for far longer than it had any right to be. England took the lead on a remarkable Ella Toone lob in the 62nd minute. In the way of such things, the crowd got quiet after that.
Germany evened the scored in the 79th minute on a fast break from well inside its own half, another fabulous goal.
It went to extra time. But instead of going where you knew it was headed, the game went the other way.
Off a corner kick in the 111th minute, Chloe Kelly scored a scrappy put-back. As she wheeled away from the net with her shirt half off, she looked back to ensure she hadn’t been offside. Satisfied, she began ole-ing her way around the pitch with her jersey in her hand.
Nine minutes plus stoppage is an eternity in GFT (Greenwich Football Time). But on this occasion, England did not find a way to blow it. It is soccer champions of something for the first time in more than 50 years.
Afterward, God help us, Sweet Caroline. Again? Haven’t these people ever heard of Queen? I mean, they are British. The band did record a track specifically meant for this kind of thing.
As the song started up, Kelly was on the sidelines with the BBC, mic in hand. Like a 70s zombie, she began dancing and ‘BAH, BAH, BAH’-ing along with the crowd. Then she ran away to join her teammates. She dropped the mic as she did so.
Musically speaking, I don’t like it. But for a change, I respect it.