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Where it began – The origin of Sweet Caroline in sport and why it sounds so good

Neil Diamond (Ian West/PA)
Neil Diamond (Ian West/PA)

Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline rang out across Wembley as England fans celebrated their team’s victory in the Euro 2020 semi-final.

It has become an anthem for many sports in England, from darts to rugby league, with fans revelling in the thought that “good times never seemed so good”.

Yet its origin as a sporting anthem appears to be across the Atlantic, where Major League Baseball team the Boston Red Sox lays claim to sparking its popularity.

It is claimed that during a game at the Red Sox’s Fenway Park stadium in 1997, Amy Tobey, an employee in charge of ball-park music, played Sweet Caroline because someone she knew had just had a baby named Caroline.

For the next few years, the song would be played on select occasions but that all changed when Dr Charles Steinberg joined the Red Sox as executive vice president of public affairs in 2002 and came to the conclusion that the song had transformative powers, so ordered it to be played during every game.

On April 20 2013, in the emotional first game back at Fenway Park following the Boston Marathon bombings, Diamond came out to the diamond to play his song live.

It was at that time that Super League side Castleford, who had appointed a new head coach in Daryl Powell, began to look at ways to introduce some razzamatazz to an ageing Wheldon Road, which became the Mend-A-Hose Jungle.

Then chief executive Steve Gill, a Neil Diamond fan, had become aware of the crowd reaction to Sweet Caroline at the Red Sox and segments were played, along with Tom Jones’ Delilah and Oasis’ Wonderwall, post match to gauge fans’ views.

The Tigers’ media manager Tom Maguire explained: “Sweet Caroline got the biggest reaction and it stuck.”

Maguire says it was played in full for the first time after full-back Luke Dorn scored a last-minute, match-winning try against Wigan on March 9 2014 and, coincidence or not, Diamond’s catchy tune became something of a lucky charm as Castleford enjoyed a remarkable upturn in fortunes under Powell.

The Tigers turned back the clock to the era of the ‘Classy Cas’ side of the 1960s and 70s, reaching the Challenge Cup final at Wembley in 2014 and a maiden Super League Grand Final three years later after finishing top of the table for the first time in the club’s 91-year history.

Sweet Caroline is only played after a victory, however, so the Tigers fans will be hoping it will ring around Wembley at the final whistle to the Betfred Challenge Cup final against St Helens on Saturday week.

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