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Whenever I inform a friend, family member or work colleague that I'm touring again with England there is always one question everyone asks. Who exactly are the people who manage to find the time and money to watch cricket overseas? It is a question that is repeated by the locals I've encountered in cricket grounds and bars across the world. After years of touring experience I believe the average England fan can be bracketed into three separate groups of people:
The tour group These tend to be people of a slightly more "mature" age group. Quite often they are long-time retired folk spending their pensions and savings on watching England overseas. Undoubtedly, they will be staying in four- or five-star hotels, from where they are ferried to and from the ground in air-conditioned buses in the company of a retired English cricketer. They can be identified with relative ease thanks to the matching tour polo shirt with socks and sandals combination.
The budget traveller Can be aged anything between 18 and 80. They are keen on doing everything, whether it be hostels, food or match tickets, as cheaply as possible and aren't afraid to broadcast that fact. Sometimes they can be on a "sabbatical" or out of work completely, and as of such are at the cricket whilst on a longer travel break to other parts of the world. The original Barmy Army, christened by the Australian media in 1994-95, were by in large in this bracket.
The independents Ah, it's my turn! The "independent" tourist tends to be someone who watches England abroad as regularly as they possibly can, using all available annual leave from work to satisfy their desire to watch England play in as many international cricket venues as possible. Will always book their own flights and accommodation without the help of a tour operator and as such can be found staying in anything from cheap dormitory hostels to mid-range hotels, depending on the country being toured. More often than not, the "independent" is identified thanks to the shabby, suntan-lotion stained t-shirts they are wearing, proudly advertising a past tour.
One of the best things about watching the England side abroad is cementing friendships with fellow supporters that have been created from years of touring. I met my current travel companion for the UAE in Kandy back in 2007. We happened to be staying at the same Sri Lankan guesthouse and have been sharing rooms, flights and late-night beers ever since. A 50-something, recently retired prison officer - "Union Dave" has become a permanent fixture on tour, often picked up by television cameras thanks to his slightly flamboyant dress sense. You guessed it - he wears garments coated entirely of the Union Jack flag! What started as a charity fundraiser has turned into a tour identity. Although we come from entirely different backgrounds and generations, cricket brings us together once or twice a year to share some great experiences.
And that is what watching England is all about. There are young people, older people, males and females. No matter what the subtle differences might be, we are all united together thanks to the common interest of supporting Andrew Strauss and the rest of the team.
Sadly, on a rather sombre note, I'd like to finish this entry paying my respect to the late George "The Podge" Summerside who passed away last weekend. "Podge" was one of the ultimate independent travellers with both England and Durham and had built up a wealth of information on the many places he'd watched cricket around the world. He was always willing to share this knowledge with fellow fans and the messages left across social network sites this weekend have shown just how much he will be missed on tour. As someone who had watched his beloved Durham play in the UAE, a new destination for the rest of us, his insight will be missed now more than ever.
RIP Podge, the Barmy Army will raise a drink or two for you next week.
Richard Kemp is in the UAE on his ninth cricket tour with the England side. Since his first tour in 2004, his love for the game has made him max out several credit cards visiting five Test-playing nations, including three tours of India and all five of last winter's Ashes Test matches. He keeps a travel blog of his journeys here
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