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Why I’m Grateful for Soccer

“When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark

At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone”

Listen Here (Recorded by Gerry and the Pacemakers, written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rogers)

soccer fan culture during a game

Since the age of five, soccer has been a major part of my life. I grew up playing in local recreational leagues, middle school teams and high school teams until I graduated from high school. The sport has influenced my life in more ways than I can imagine.

In August 2014, right after the Brazil World Cup had ended, I attended my first professional soccer game. I went with my parents, younger brother and best friend. The match: Liverpool F.C. (English Premier League) vs. A.C. Milan (Italian Series A). I had heard of both clubs and knew they were historically successful, but nothing else in all honesty. I was just excited to see world-class players and European teams play in person. While the game was fun to watch and it was a really cool experience, there was one thing that stuck out in particular and has never left me. Prior to kickoff of every game, Liverpool’s supporters raise their scarves and sing along to a song played over the stadium speakers: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Gerry and the Pacemakers.

‘You’ll never walk alone’ is the team’s mantra and is found on their scarves, the gate entrance to their stadium (Anfield) and anywhere else it can be put. I got goosebumps listening to the supporters belting out the song at the top of their lungs with so much passion (and I still do whenever I watch it on TV or listen to the song myself, please go give it a listen and check out Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund fans passionately singing the song together here)

I ended up purchasing my own Liverpool scarf at the game and at one point I stared at the words, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ thinking it is cool that even in losses and dark times for the team, we are in this together as a whole community. I still believe that and while true, the song and its lyrics have come to mean so much more. It is true in all facets of life and has really come to help me through my mental health as well as struggles with depression and anxiety. I may be experiencing these feelings, but I am NEVER alone in this and that is INCREDIBLY empowering to know and remember.

Finding my community

This song is why I became a Liverpool FC supporter, a decision which, surprisingly, has had a huge effect on my life. Aside from following, supporting a team and watching soccer on TV, supporting Liverpool has given me a community. The soccer community is a small, tight knit, friendly community in the United States born of a passion for all fans to see the sport we love grow and flourish in the United States. Whenever I wear a jersey, I constantly have people talk to me about it regardless of where their team allegiances align and these conversations have sparked friendships. There is a unity within the soccer community that is hard to understand and recognize until you become a part of it. Not only has it brought me together with strangers and new friends, it has also greatly allowed me to connect with my brother who is eight years younger than me… even if he is a fan of Liverpool’s rival, Manchester United.

However, one of the most surprising effects of my soccer fandom has occurred in my professional life.

Making connections

At the moment I am about to complete an internship and become a child life specialist. What’s a child life specialist you ask? Brief elevator speech: child life specialists work in children’s hospitals and explain procedures to children and families so that they know what is going on, provide emotional support, play with and distract children during procedures, and be an advocate for their care. My passion for soccer has allowed me to connect with patients from around the world and build trusting relationships between myself, patients and families. Many international child patients are excited to talk soccer and players they love such as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo or Mohamed Salah. The children and families instantly light up and sense a connection between us, feeling like they have a friend in a scary place or during a difficult time.

There is one thing I want to tell my patients, their families, and other people struggling with physical and mental health problems:

“You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Austin Crowell

A few words about me

Ahoy! My name is Austin Crowell and I am from North Carolina. I am an avid soccer and NC State fan. There aren’t many things I love more than hiking, nature, summer camps, being goofy, and ice cream.