I was always a little dubious of the Barmy Army. Bunch of Home Counties poshoes playing at being football hooligans. Probably wear red jeans. Definitely a few estate agents in there among their ranks.
But the followers of the England cricket team are nothing if not fantastically loyal and, over the years of their criss-crossing the globe at their own expense, at the mercy of credit card busting air travel ticketing and smug Australians, I’ve come to really admire them.
Last week’s Test match against Pakistan was played in the dusty heat of Dubai, for security reasons. Doubtless the suits at the International Cricket Council were also hoping that playing in the cash-rich surrounds of the UAE might entice some new fans/customers to the joys of the five-day game.
The banks of empty seats in the stands at the ground, set on the edge of the city in a complex known as Sports City (though it looks more like a suburban construction site) suggests they’ve got a bit of work to do.
However, there was a decent splattering of sunburnt, if relatively sober England fans, members of the Barmy Army, who defied the blazing heat, the general apathy of the locals and over-fussy stewards taking any drinks (soft or otherwise) off them on entering the stadium, leaving them at the mercy of the official catering and bar outlets (and the only booze on offer was Foster’s…)
And, of course, just to really test their Barmy credentials, England took a mighty old thrashing (in their first game as the world’s number one Test team, natch). On that first day, there were a good 1,000 English fans in attendance (in a 24,000-seater stadium). The Telegraph’s man on the spot reckoned there were some 21 of their Pakistani counterparts watching events unfold.
This week, the series moves to Abu Dhabi, further down through the desert. Entry is free, which will (hopefully) see a better crowd, if not necessarily a massively improved atmosphere.
Back in the 1990s, Silvio Berlusconi (yup, bear with me on this one) suggested letting in fans for free. The argument was that creating a decent bit of atmosphere in the stands would make for a better television spectacle.
Maybe the filthy old bunga bunga boy actually had a point. There’s nothing more off-putting for the armchair fan (and we all qualify as one of those) than a distant drunk hollering to himself on a half-empty, wind-blown terrace (anyone who remembers football coverage in the 1980s will know exactly what I’m talking about).
I’m not suggesting letting the buggers in for free, but cricket, and Test cricket in particular, needs the Barmy Army - and the various international versions that have cropped up across the globe in their wake (like the Australian “Super Fans” or whatever it is that they bloody call themselves).
Like all travelling armies, the Barmy variety has its own official trumpeter Billy Cooper, a man who has spent a personal fortune getting behind the England cricket team. He was remarkably chipper about his fellow foot soldiers, only complaining that the bar didn’t open until 11 (am).
Makes yer proud, doesn’t it?
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