Jane Hardwick's account seems plausible, but this alone is worthless when attempting to determine historical accuracy. Specific detail, independent verification, corroborating evidence and consistency are more important factors. As we shall see, Hardwick's story fails some basic tests.
Here is the report as it originally appeared in the Manchester Evening News
ONE of the most bitter rivalries in football has taken a new twist with the claim that Liverpool fans stole their famous You'll Never Walk Alone anthem from Manchester United supporters. [...] Jane, 61, was a teenage opera singer when many of her footballing heroes were killed in the tragic Munich air crash in 1958. And as her own special tribute to the Busby Babes, heartbroken Jane convinced her friends from New Mills Operatic Society in Derbyshire to join her in a rousing rendition of the song at one of the games following the tragedy. [...] She said: "It has annoyed me so much that people think the song was first sung by the Liverpool fans. [...] It was an emotional time and I managed to persuade my friends to join in with me. Soon the whole ground was singing it and many people, including me, were in tears."
The first thing to note about Hardwick is how bitter and vitriolic she sounds. "It gets up my nose when Liverpudlians say it is their song [...] I'm sure they won't like what I have to say about that!" She seems genuinely upset that Liverpool supporters (arch rivals) have a special connection with the song. This is suggestive of 'motivated reasoning'.
Hardwick fares poorly when pressed for simple details (names of friends, dates, etc). I was one of several people who questioned her account after publication. It struck me as odd that she could not recall the match fixture at which she led the entire stadium in song. A teenage opera singer and lifelong Manchester United supporter who was first taken to Old Trafford at six weeks old. It would be difficult to forget an occasion like this, would it not?
Perhaps one of the 60,000+ other supporters who attended Old Trafford on the unspecified date can remember when "You'll Never Walk Alone" echoed around the terraces? Alas, no. Not a single person has stepped forward to corroborate her story and
nothing is recorded on film or in print to support her claim. An emotional occasion such as this would be worth a paragraph or two in most newspapers, following the tragedy, which received a great deal of media attention. It would be easy to examine the records around this specific date. Many authors have already done so, recounting public reaction to the disaster in numerous written works, yet no supporting evidence has come to light.
Another red flag is how the story has morphed over time to iron out inconsistencies. It was pointed out that singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" on a single isolated occasion is not the same thing as performing it with frequency (i.e. formally 'adopting' the song). Perhaps stung by these and other inconvenient questions, Hardwick changed her tune in 2009, claiming instead:
My friends all sang it probably 2-3 times at home matches, and a few around us joined in.
In the latest version of the story, the song was
belted out on multiple occasions ("probably") and the reason why nobody has come forward to support this account is because only a "few" people actually joined in. All very convenient.
Most peculiarly, it was later disclosed that Hardwick was never an opera singer, as claimed, but an "aspiring" dancer.