Shaun Williamson shows off Sweet Caroline vocals at Wembley Euros event

Former EastEnders star Shaun Williamson has backed Sweet Caroline as football’s ultimate anthem.

Williamson, perhaps best known as the ill-fated and lovelorn Barry Evans in the BBC soap, surprised fans at Boxpark Wembley on Thursday with a rendition of the song ahead of England drawing against Denmark at Euro 2024.

He currently has a new calling as the emcee of Barrioke, a karaoke event that has seen him entertain huge crowds on a popular – and seemingly indefinite – tour around the UK.

The 58-year-old said he loves the Neil Diamond song – ranked England’s favourite football tune in a recent survey – while he feels Phil Foden would make the best soap star out of Gareth Southgate’s squad.

Williamson told the PA news agency: “There’s been some belters, any Liverpool fan will tell you it’s You’ll Never Walk Alone and every particular team has their own anthem, but to me it’s Sweet Caroline.

“It’s just a beautiful song. I don’t think you can beat it. It’s simple. Like most great songs, there’s a simplicity to them. There’s some notable rivals, like Three Lions or Vindaloo by Fat Les, but I think Sweet Caroline takes it.”

England supporters agree. In a poll carried out by Coca-Cola Zero Sugar about fans’ favourite anthems, Sweet Caroline took 31% of the vote followed by We Are The Champions’ (29%), You’ll Never Walk Alone (25%) and Three Lions (23%), with Vindaloo (15%) rounding out the top five.

Asked to envision a Eurovision of football songs, Williamson thinks a combination of Scottish DJ Calvin Harris and frequent collaborator Rag’n’Bone Man could write a winning hit for a UK entry.

He said: “Calvin Harris just keeps writing these anthems. I don’t know where the man gets it from. He’s in his own field, he’s a genius.”

Aitch and Shaun Williamson
Aitch and Shaun Williamson (John Nguyen Media Assignments/PA)

It has been more than 20 years since EastEnders’ Barry met an untimely demise when he was pushed off a cliff by his wife, Janine Butcher, and Williamson admits there was a point where he “tried his level best to shake [Barry] off, but Barry has come in again in the form of Barrioke, and it’s this wonderful Indian summer to the autumn of my career”.

Williamson thinks Foden is best placed to provide the drama and water-cooler dialogue necessary to make a successful soap star.

The Extras star, who played a satirical version of himself in the hit comedy, also feels captain Harry Kane “gets the double standard of you’re appearing on the show, but they’re taking the mickey out of you big time”, which would serve him well in a cameo appearance if Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant ever revive the show.

Williamson is confident England have what it takes to at least reach the semi-finals this year, and agreed that whatever twists, turns and cliff-hangers there are to come, watching Southgate’s men can sometimes feel a bit like tuning into the soap on which he appeared.

“It can be uplifting, it can have its funny moments, but if you’re an England fan it can be downright depressing, just like EastEnders,” he said.

“Whereas in EastEnders if they’re struggling for a really good storyline they have a murder.

“England just have penalties.”