The Barmy Army is a semi-organised group of English cricket fans which arranges touring parties for some of its members to follow the English cricket team on overseas tours. 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 group, then less organised, was given its name by the Australian media during the 1994 - 1995 Test series in Australia, reportedly for the fans' audacity in travelling to Australia in the near-certain knowledge that their team would lose, and the fact that they kept on chanting even when England were losing quite badly. It was co-founded by Paul Burnham.
The Barmy Army, which is a limited company, claims 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 such behaviour.
The group engages in charity work, and has a good reputation among cricket administrators and among some other fans. However, some cricket followers find the chanting of the Barmy Army to be annoying, lowbrow and disruptive and the late cricket writer/commentator Christopher Martin-Jenkins accused the Army 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, Sergeant Wilko, was manager at the time, and Sergeant Bilko's Barmy Army (shown on British TV at the time) inspired the chant, "Sergeant Wilko's Barmy Army". Older fans may actually remember that it was originally sung 6 years earlier when Jack Charlton took charge and said that Wednesday's fans must be barmy to travel to an away match. The chant therefore originated as 'Jackie Charlton's Barmy Army'. The chant moved up to Leeds in 1988 when Wilkinson moved to Leeds United. In conjunction with the increasing appearance of English football shirts at cricket grounds in the early 1990s, the song's repetitive cry of "Barmy Army, Barmy Army, Barmy Army" transferred to domestic 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, 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. Some regard the Barmy Army's unofficial leader to be Vic Flowers.
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".
Notes and references
- 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. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
- Christopher Martin-Jenkins. Vaughan's men reap dividends of bolder approach The Times, 26 January 2005