We are the Army
The Barmy Barmy Army
We are the England
The Mighty Mighty England
Atherton's Barmy Army...
- the Barmy Army theme song
This might seem like a rather normal state of affairs for English cricket, in retrospect.
However, when your national squad:
loses to Australia (fair enough, as it happens);
loses to Australia A (Australia's second team);
loses to the Australian Academy side (yes, even their youth team),
... then logically it would seem a bit silly to support a side that appears to have bombed completely. But the fans, hopeful and utterly mad, kept their mettle and cheered the England XI on as the results worsened.
The Australian media called the English fans 'a barmy army' for still paying to see their team get completely pasted.
And thus was born their nickname - 'England's Barmy Army'.
But Why 'Barmy Army'?
The point for calling the English fans 'barmy' was due to the fact that they had been spending a lot of money on travelling to see and supporting a side that seemed to be unable to play cricket for toffee. The 'army' part came from the English fans' tendency to bob together and sing songs and generally have a big party in tandem during matches.
So, when England lost the final Test at Perth with a 329-run defeat2, there was still an aura of cheerfulness about the English fans, even though Australia won that Ashes Series three Tests to one. (The pavilion must have rattled like crazy when Michael Atherton's men won that solitary test at the Adelaide Oval.)
'Atherton's Barmy Army' had soon become a focal point for the media and the public, and with the sledging3 from the Australian fans, their support for England only sought to grow in intensity during the Ashes. The days following the Adelaide Test saw the creation of a merchandising business, with a T-shirt design drawn up and the proceeds from the final ten days used to trademark the name 'Barmy Army' in both England and Australia, and the formation of Barmy Army Limited. This would take care of the merchandising, travelling packages for future England matches and charity bashes between Barmy Army fans, celebrities and professional cricketers4, with the Barmy Army Cricket Club (BACC). These bashes raise money for various charities, such as leukaemia research.
Despite the Australians having the upper hand that time in the Ashes, the Barmy Army sought to keep morale high in support of England throughout by battling with the Australian fans through the medium of song, chants, and the all-too-familiar sledging tactics between the players and the fans, generally in good-natured spirit.
The Spread of Barminess
After the Barmy invasion of Australia, the Barmy Army had grown in notoriety. Soon, they reunited in South Africa to watch England lose, and they also found fame in India, Pakistan, New Zealand and the Caribbean as the fans who were there pushed support through for England at whatever cost, especially when the opposition fans were particularly harsh, throwing bottles at the England players5.
There is no set way in which the Army represents itself, and there is no need for application. A support for England in their cricket matches is all that is needed, be it doing the umpire hand signals for fours, sixes, outs, and leg-byes6 and applauding good shots politely, though whatever weird or wacky way this is done is up to the individual supporter. Fancy dress is a common sight at many England matches, with prizes given out for the best and most innovative costume7. Expect to see a few WG Graces wandering past the bar as well.
The Barmy Army also saw fit to release a few singles, with 'We Are England' released two months too late after England had lost the 1997 Ashes Tour three Tests to one, and 'Come On England' for the World Cup in 1999, complete with video.
The Barmy Army repertoire ranges from the carousing to the rather rude and insulting, from the dulcet patriotism of William Blake's 'Jerusalem' resonating all over the Oval, to the chorus of The Beatles' 'Yellow Submarine' substituted with 'You all live in a convict colony' when playing against the Aussies.
Even the players aren't spared from the Barmy Chorus, with a song or chant for almost every member of the England squad. Unfortunately, the Australians do get the short end of the stick, with Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting and other dangerous players often targeted. A typical song will see a well-known song switched with Barmy lyrics. The lyrics are all made up by the fans, some on the spot, some with more forethought, and others...well, they tried.
The Barmy Army also have their own anthems to announce their presence. They range from the simple 'BARMY ARMY!' chant with similar response, to the general 'Everywhere we go...(everywhere we go...)people want to know...(people want to know...)'.
Sledging between cricket players has been in the sport for longer than can be remembered. For the Barmy Army, this generally works as a battle of sledging between the English fans and the opposition fans, or the English fans and the poor opposition player who gets stuck covering the boundary rope nearest to them.
The Barmy Army v The Opposition Fans
This is usually done through the medium of song, but even the most hearty of Barmy Army singing can be beaten. In the Caribbean Tour during the spring of 1998, the Barmy Army met their singing match in the form of the Triniposse, the Barmy Army's supporters' equivalent from Trinidad, sponsored by the West Indies Cricket Board. Though the Barmy Army were out-sung and out-partied, it only sought to increase the intensity of the support for England in future bashes.
The battle of the elements was one innovative piece of sledging between the English fans and the Australian fans at the Oval Test in the 2005 Ashes Tour, with the English brandishing their umbrellas, a signal to take the players off for rain that wasn't there, and the Australian fans taking off their shirts as if it was a basking Australian summer. The Australian players joined in the fun, all of them wearing sunglasses as they returned from the pavilion after going off for 'bad light'.
The Barmy Army v the Opposition Players
I Shall Taunt You A Second Time
This generally focuses on the relationship between the Barmy Army and the player who gets set covering the boundary rope. Though the rapport is generally good-natured, as when a player drops a catch, it can go a bit too far, with some fans targeting personal problems in the player's life or their height, as in the case of not-quite-as-tall-as-the-rest-of-the-Australia XI, Justin Langer.
For example, Australia fast bowler Jason Gillespie is well-known for being targeted by chants of 'Where's your caravan?', as his shaggy long mullet, goatee beard and earring apparently resemble the stereotypical image of gypsy travellers. However, this may also be a dig at his Australian Aboriginal ancestry, which, in this Researcher's opinion, is not needed.
Gillespie did hit back in the newspapers, but also added a little jest of his own, saying that 'the caravan was in for repairs'.
The personal life of Australia's dangerous spinner Shane Warne was targeted a lot during the 2005 Ashes Tour8, though when Warne started taking a few English wickets, the English fans did burst into a chorus of:
We wish you were English! We only wish you were English!
Me And My Big Mouth
If certain opposition players make predictions about the outcome of the match which prove to be wrong, they can expect to be sledged at like no other by the Barmy Army.
Australia's veteran fast bowler Glenn McGrath predicted a 5-0 whitewash of the England squad by Australia at the start of the 2005 Ashes Tour. However, a shock injury on the morning of the 2nd Test at Edgbaston dashed his chances of playing fit for that Test, which England won. So, when he was placed on the boundary rope at subsequent Tests, the sounds of 'Five-nil! Five-nil!' from the English fans only sought to rise in volume9.
The Barmy Army Marches On
Though the 'Barmy Army' is generally used as a collective name for the English fans wherever they are — often denoted by either 'England's Barmy Army' or '[insert England Captain's name here]'s Barmy Army — the Army itself could be described as representing the fans that follow England on their matches at home and all around the world. Their support is recognised all over the world, and also by the players, with Michael Atherton commenting that the support for the Edgbaston Test that England won, in the 1997 Ashes Tour, was 'awesome', as were the rousing verses of 'Jerusalem' at the Oval for Michael Vaughan's men in 2005 when England beat Australia and won back the Ashes after a 16-year deficit.
With any resurgence in English cricket, there is sure to be an increase in support by fans, and thus the Barmy Army will grow in numbers, but even when England begin to lose dismally, the Barmy Army can rest secure in the knowledge that they are famed for being the one of the best armies of losers in cricket.
And the barmiest.
When I was six, I had no sense
I bought a flute for fifty pence
The only tune that I could play
Was 'Michael Vaughan's Barmy Army'.
- The Barmy Army have their own website over here.
- Ashes? See why this Test Series is called the Ashes.
- I don't get any of this cricket nonsense! So here's an apology.
- How badly did England do on that 1994-1995 tour? Find out here.
- Or find out more about cricket on the BBC by going here.