It’s a song that has become synonymous with the England football teams, reverberating around Wembley and Trafalgar Square as the Lionesses marked their historic win at the Euros on Sunday.
Sweet Caroline solidified its place as England’s football anthem during last summer’s Euros, with manager Gareth Southgate declaring: “You can’t beat a bit of Neil Diamond to celebrate a win.”
But long before this, the classic tune was sung proudly at Windsor Park and away matches for over 20 years.
First released in May 1969, it was also frequently used by the Boston Red Sox at baseball games. So where and how did Sweet Caroline originate as a football anthem and why does it work so well for the sport?
Gary McAllister, chairman of the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters’ clubs, said when the song was first sung at Windsor Park, it was given a local twist and changed lyrically to suit the fans. But over time, that version became “lost in translation” and reverted to Diamond’s original song.
“As it happens with football supporters, we took a popular song, adapted the lyrics and sang our own version called Sweet Norn Iron,” Gary explained.
“I remember travelling to away games and being in bars where we were singing the Northern Ireland version, but through lack of awareness of the revised words, it got lost in translation and virtually everyone ended up singing the original words.
“As the crowds attending the games got bigger, I think the fans just assumed we were singing Diamond’s lyrics and when they started singing it at stadiums, it was just too difficult to tell them that we had changed the lyrics.
“Sweet Caroline became synonymous with important games, like Northern Ireland’s win over England in 2005 and Sweden in 2007.
“Some older fans pointed out that we weren’t singing Sweet Norn Iron anymore, but I think that one is gone now, and it will be Sweet Caroline, the original, forever more.”
Gary said he thought the original lyrics were fitting for a stadium sing-along.
“They’re not hard words to learn and with lyrics like ‘reaching out, touching me, touching you’, you can see why it’s an easy song to remember,” he said.
“It’s the collective thing we all love and it creates a brilliant atmosphere.”
Radio presenter/producer and Northern Ireland fan David ‘Rigsy’ O’Reilly said he can also remember singing Sweet Caroline at Northern Ireland’s triumphant game against England in 2005.
But he said the first time it felt like a "proper anthem” was when Northern Ireland beat Sweden at Windsor Park.
“It works as an anthem as it has a gentle build-up, which no one really seems to know the words to, then gets louder for the hands 'reaching out' bit, which literally makes everyone put their hands in the air,” Rigsy said.
“Then of course there’s that ridiculously catchy chorus with its optional chanting bit - ‘so good!’ Apart from the lyrics, which no one really cares about, I mean who even is Caroline, it might as well have been designed for football matches. It’s just perfect for a big sweaty, huggy sing-along.”
Belfast singer/songwriter Jessica Hammond knows a thing or two about composing football anthems.
Ahead of the Women’s Euro finals, she recorded and released Girl Got Game – the official song of the Northern Ireland squad.
She says a great anthem had to have a catchy melody, easy-to-learn lyrics and a chorus that encouraged everyone to join in.
“With a song like Sweet Caroline, it has been passed down through the generations and is loved by everyone,” Jessica said.
“It has a catchy, repetitive melody that helps it stick, starts low, builds up in the pre-chorus to the highest point and has a great chorus with simplistic words that are easy to sing along to.
“Neil Diamond is a massive artist and a brilliant songwriter, but really good marketing helps too. The song has been getting a lot of airtime on TV and is played by DJs in the football stadium, so it sticks.
“Three Lions is another great football anthem, but Sweet Caroline is definitely up there as one of the best, especially in Northern Ireland.”
Following England’s quarter-final Euros win over Germany last year, Wembley DJ Tony Perry played Sweet Caroline instead of Fat Les’ 1998 World Cup song Vindaloo. It went down so well with the crowd’s buoyant mood, that even the German supporters joined in.
Not surprisingly, the Lionesses then took it on as their unofficial anthem, with thousands singing it in Trafalgar Square to celebrate their 2-1 victory over Germany.
But while the song has been adopted by the England cricket team, in boxing circles and played at Arsenal and Aston Villa games, many Northern Ireland fans still claim it as their own.
Rigsy said: “It’s been sung by American teams for years, most notably the Boston Red Sox who I think were the first to be associated with it.
“So it's funny to see Northern Ireland fans take the hump, though most of them know it was never 'their' song in the first place. It's also sung by Arsenal fans and England cricket fans. It's just a great song to sing.”
But Gary’s not so sure about allowing everyone to have ownership.
“Last year during the Euros, a DJ played it at the end of an England game and suddenly everyone was singing it,” he said.
“To be honest, I would prefer that they stuck to Three Lions as their traditional anthem and left Sweet Caroline to us, but it is what it is.”