The Barmy Army at first an informal group, was later turned into a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. The company provides tickets and arranges touring parties for some of its members to follow the English cricket team in the UK and overseas. The name is also applied to followers of the team who join in with match day activities in the crowd, but do not necessarily travel as part of an organised tour. The term "barmy" is English slang for "mad" or "crazy".
The group, then less organised, was given its name by the Australian media during the 1994–95 Test series in Australia, reportedly for the fans' hopeless audacity in travelling all the way to Australia in the near-certain knowledge that their team would lose, and the fact that they kept on chanting encouragement to the England team even when England were losing quite badly. It was co-founded by Paul Burnham.
On the first day of the 1994–95 Ashes Series at Adelaide Oval, a group of supporters of the English Cricket team during the lunch break headed to T-Shirt City on Hindley Street and ordered 50 shirts saying "Atherton's Barmy Army" with the Union Jack emblazoned on the back. By the end of the Test over 200 shirts had been purchased. This Test is often cited as the catalyst for the formal establishment of the Barmy Army.
The Barmy Army, which is now a limited company, states that it wants to "make watching cricket more fun and much more popular". The group uses flags, banners, songs and chants to encourage the team and crowd participation in their activities. In contrast to the reputations of some sports fans for hooliganism, the Barmy Army organisers actively discourage and avoid such behaviour.
The group engages in charity work and has gained a good reputation among most cricket administrators. However, many cricket followers find their constant chanting to be annoying and disruptive, particularly during the afternoon sessions of Test matches when the chanting of the Barmy Army, fuelled by their consumption of large amounts of alcohol, often becomes a repetitive, irritating background noise; among others, the renowned cricket writer/commentator Christopher Martin-Jenkins accused them of "demeaning English cricket".
"Barmy Army" was a football chant sung by fans at many grounds, originally sung at Hillsborough by Sheffield Wednesday in the early 1980s. This was because Howard Wilkinson, known as Sergeant Wilko, who was the manager at the time inspired the chant, "Sergeant Wilko's Barmy Army". In conjunction with the increasing appearance of English football shirts at cricket grounds in the early 1990s, the song's droning, repetitive cry of "Barmy Army, Barmy Army, Barmy Army" transferred to domestic Test cricket arenas at Old Trafford and Headingley. It was particularly apparent during the 1993 Ashes tour.
Throughout the 1990s, increased spending power, via a stronger British Pound at the time, enabled fans to take the song overseas when following tours of the English national cricket team. Because of that particular song, and the fact that it seemed to represent English fans' activity of standing in the hot sun, drinking lager all day until they were sunburnt and unwell, it became a description as well as a song. David Lloyd and Ian Botham used the tag to describe the supporters whilst commentating for Sky Sports during England's tours from 1993 to 1995.
Only in the mid-1990s was the tag recognised as an official title for English touring cricket fans and adopted by what is now recognised as the official Barmy Army.
In the late 1990s performers Richard Stilgoe and Peter Skellern recognised the need for an anthem for the loyal supporters of a team that regularly seemed to lose and wrote a stirring song called "The Barmy Army" which they included in their touring repertoire. It can be found on their 1999 CD "A Quiet Night Out" and humorously celebrates the English team's skill at "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory".
In other sports
Supporters of English national teams in other sports are also subsidiaries of the Barmy Army. The rugby equivalent was formed in 2014, they also form part of the Army to support British and Irish Lions, while there is another separate subsidiary for Rugby League.
- Staff. Crass and corporate - why the Barmy Army are no laughing matter 1 December 2006
- Dominic Lawson: Fight back against the Barmy Army, The Independent, 5 Dec 2006
- "Not barmy, just lucky". Inthenews.co.uk. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 20 July 2012.
- "How Barmy Army teed off in SA". 30 November 2013. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
- Christopher Martin-Jenkins. Vaughan's men reap dividends of bolder approach The Times, 26 January 2005
- "Barmy Army Rugby". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
- Official website
- Article praising the Barmy Army's behaviour on tour in Australia
- Article challenging the view presented in the article above