England’s recent tour of South Africa saw their world-renowned independent fanbase celebrate their 25th anniversary. Since being affectionately labeled ‘The Barmy Army’ by the media during the 1994-95 Ashes, a once small number of England supporters grew into one of the most recognisable fan groups in sport.
Now with merchandise, tour packages, England tickets, a podcast, pages of songs and tiered membership options, The Barmy Army is a commercial entity that, to its credit, has retained its principle aim of uniting England cricket fans.
After selling 100 t-shirts during the inaugural tour to Australia, they soon followed up with an order in excess of 3000. The Barmy Army was born. Given their title due to their apparent delusion at backing a lackluster England side that were well beaten 3-1 by their Australian counterparts, The Barmy Army has followed English cricket around the globe ever since.
While tours to Australia, South Africa, and the Caribbean remain the best-attended series, an unwavering loyalty to the England team and passion for travel has seen The Barmy Army remain vocal, bellowing the lyrics to Jerusalem and singing along to the tunes of the recently-retired Billy Cooper’s skilled trumpeting, even during the more grueling trips.
Over the last two and half decades, ‘The Army’ have spurred the England team on; during the most recent test match in Cape Town, SuperSport commentator, Pommie Mbangwa, suggested it was like England were playing at home. The stands were full of English support and, rightly, England’s travelling support was complimented by the media and received widespread thanks from the players. However, the wider issue of international test cricket support remains often overlooked. The size of England’s supporting contingent remains admirable, though for the sake of test cricket’s longevity, the cricketing community can ill afford to neglect diminishing test match attendances across the globe.
So, it can be concluded that The Barmy Army are supporting a cause in need and are a force for cricketing good. It is largely agreeable: the organisation is the source of many friendships and, in their own words, they ‘embrace every age, budget and background’, all while fulfilling the metaphorical twelfth man role for England.
That is not to suggest that The Barmy Army is perfect, though; some Australians, for example, may suggest things went too far during their 2019 tour for the ICC Men’s World Cup and The Ashes. While seemingly unmalicious, The Barmy Army have long jested about their opponents’ failures. Few can forget the tirade of sledging that Mitchell Johnson received years ago. Such examples though, hence their memorability, are uncommon; the majority of Barmy Army noise within a cricket ground is encouraging, uplifting and supportive of the England team, rather than directed at opponents.
The positivity of ‘The Army’ is felt globally, and their lesser known charitable exploits also deserve significant praise; since their founding, a plethora of charities and communities have been beneficiaries of The Barmy Army’s generosity. Most recently, the tour to South Africa saw them raise money for nature conservation projects and Soweto Cricket Club, the latter of which played a friendly fixture against The Barmy Army in 1996 and received a donation from Barmy Army t-shirt sales. The complete list of charitable beneficiaries over their 25-year existence, however, is extensive and global, and thus a credit to the organisation.
Though some consider The Barmy Army a club of noisy rabble, often such individuals are unaware of the reputable nature of the organisation that they are criticising. Now operating on two fronts (The Barmy Army and Barmy Travel), the group continue to cater for increasing tourist demands, offering a growing number of people the opportunity to watch England’s cricketers, all while maintaining a caring and considerate attitude towards host nations when abroad.
After 25 years of touring, The Barmy Army is showing no sign of slowing down, even if its membership is ever-evolving. A globally recognized fanbase within the cricketing community, they are an organisation that English cricket can be proud to have represent them.
To find out more about The Barmy Army, visit www.barmyarmy.com