|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Shop||Mobile|
This book offers the story of England's much misunderstood band of travelling supporters from the inside
October 27, 2012
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. That's all the Barmy Army crave. That they still have their detractors is almost certainly because they're such an easy target for the primarily middle-class English media, and it all starts, of course, with that self-mocking name. Barmy, after all, is another take on "loony", "bonkers", "potty" and sundry other deliciously wry English words denoting a lack of mental mettle. Happily, as journalist Winslow affirms in his wry, perceptive and winningly written travelogue of life on the road "chasing the cricket dragon", the brand of looniness favoured by foot soldiers such as himself is not only almost entirely benign (Ricky Ponting doubtless disagrees) but, in its way, rather beautiful. In a sweet, sweaty, bromantic sort of way.
Rewind to North Sound, Antigua, February 2009. The briefest Test match yet is over, done and dusted in ten balls. "The bowlers were having trouble with their footings," explained Alan Hurst, the match referee. "We considered it very dangerous." So uncannily did the outfield resemble a beach, it was a shock to discover that water wasn't lapping the boundary edge and the spectators weren't aboard their pedalos.
At 3pm, remarkably, came an announcement: another Test would start at St John's two days later. The driving force behind this rare instance of on-the-hoof administration was Giles Clarke, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who'd made his fortune trying to satisfy his customers, in particular their desire for affordable plonk. This time, he'd been listening to an angry crowd. As was now the norm, thousands of British tourists were spending their vacations following the England team to far-flung former territories. On tours of the Caribbean, moreover, it was now almost habitual for holidaymakers to outnumber locals, often considerably so.
But for the presence and remonstrations of the Barmy Army, it is extremely doubtful that such swift action would have been countenanced, much less taken. Yet until fairly recently, among the English media, the consensus was both unequivocal and unshiftable: not only was the average Barmie rude, crass and never knowingly sober, he (and they were always "he") possessed a few thousand cells too few for an operable brain, not to mention having far too much in common with his f***ball-besotted counterpart.
Indeed, that provocative maestro of the look-at-me tirade, Matthew Norman, actually had the brass balls to claim in the Daily Telegraph that, unlike the Barmy Army - "that coalition of saddoes… the only faction of any sporting audience in history whose primary motivation for attending games is not to watch but be watched" - football thugs "had integrity", a statement Winslow neatly and thoroughly demolishes for its intergalactic remoteness from fact. The image, nonetheless, was set in stone and ink: a bloody national disgrace.
This has always struck me as profoundly snobbish, not to say grotesquely unjust. After all, what national team, in any sport, can command such a devoted caravanserai, such a loyal source of lung power and lusty encouragement? Even now, the most damaging and regrettable incident involving an England cricket fan dates back to Perth 1982, a dozen years before the first Barmy Army t-shirt went on sale, when Terry Alderman dislocated a shoulder bringing down a pitch invader. Consider, too, those allegations of self-aggrandisement. A recent browse through the Army's website forum revealed 1685 posts for "Barmy Army Chat" and 19,408, more than ten times as many, for "General Cricket Chat".
The main difficulty, attests Winslow, lies with perceptions and, in particular, the Army's "schizophrenic identity issues". "Those who have been involved in shaping it, maintaining it, developing it and caring for it have a clear definition of what it is, but those who write about it, those who join it without realising what it stands for, and even those who are not involved at all can both skew public opinion and have a damaging effect on its reputation." Yet even that definition - cricket-loving patriots - falls short: sure, there's the hardcore group that flew steadfastly to India after the 2008 Mumbai atrocity but then there are those who turn up for a couple of Tests in the more attractive cities. "Even to us the Army can be a different beast every day, and some days we like it more than others."
It is impossible to quantify how much Andrew Strauss' team benefited from Bill Cooper's uplifting trumpet or those endless renditions of "Everywhere We Go" and "Jerusalem" on their triumphant Ashes tour of 2010-11 (by when Norman was virtually alone in his condemnation), but why not settle for the view propounded by Graeme Swann in his foreword to this entertaining volume: "They are not hooligans, they are not troublemakers, they are just cricket nuts who fly the flag for this brilliant country we live in. They are the very heartbeat of our Test team abroad. And I love them for it."
Going Barmy: Despatches From a Cricketing Foot Soldier
by Paul Winslow
£8.99, pp 310
Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of BrightonFeeds: Rob Steen
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
|Comments have now been closed for this article
Modern Masters: Many of his tons have been match-defining and his ability to score them quickly has boosted England's chances
Ashley Mallett: After receiving a pasting in the first post-war Ashes tour, the England seamer decided he had to think up a new delivery: the legcutter
Tony Cozier: The sequence of stuttering starts, with the middle and lower orders picking up the pieces, does not bode well
Cricket Captain 2014 is suited to the hardcore strategist, but its complexities and poor graphics may turn off the casual player
Jonathan Wilson: It has value when used against players who have transgressed - particularly if they have somehow offended the spirit of the game
Kohli, Root, Smith and Williamson will take turns as the No. 1 Test batsman. So far each has shown only one technical weakness
Glenn McGrath talks about the method behind his metronomic consistency, visualisation, and why aggression isn't about sledging
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge
Plays of the day from the tri-series match between Zimbabwe and South Africa
Alastair Cook needs an out-of-the-box plan that veers India from the set pieces. One of those plans could be an early Powerplay
Would he have fared better than the incumbent middle-order batsmen, Root and Ballance?
Graeme Pollock has been among the top three finest players his country ever produced; and not far off that pace in the world rankings either