Like many other cricket fans, I’ve always viewed the Barmy Army as a group of beer guzzling lads that have to be tolerated every four years or so when the English cricket team visits our shores. I was amazed to discover that there is a lot more to the Barmies than drinking.
The Barmy Army was formed by three Englishmen, Paul Burnham, David Peacock and Gareth Evans, during the 1994/95 Ashes tour of Australia. The trio went backpacking around Australia and attended every Test match of the series. They supported their team loudly, singing songs and trying to keep up with the Aussies in the beer drinking stakes – in which they failed horribly, just like their compatriots on the field!
By the time of the fourth Test in Adelaide, the trio had established quite a reputation and sizable following. In previewing the Test match, a local newspaper referred to the group as “a barmy army”. And voila! During the first day’s lunch break, Burnham, Peacock and Evans headed to a t-shirt shop and ordered 50 shirts saying “Atherton’s Barmy Army” with the Union Jack emblazoned on the back. By the end of the tour over 2,000 t-shirts were sold. The three men instantly realised the commercial potential. While still in Australia they trademarked the name and when they were back in England set up an official company called the Barmy Army.
Burnham was the real driving force behind the venture. He set up a membership scheme that gives England supporters the unique opportunity to be a part of a family of cricket fans. It is still the foundation of the business. Burnham also introduced the concept of travel packages, allowing English cricket fans to travel all over the world. This is another cornerstone of the business model.
The Barmy Army has evolved into a world-renowned supporters’ club. A different Barmy Army forms at every day of an International match. The songs and the anthems will vary, but the core values of supporting the England team, whatever the result, have always remained the same. Nowadays the Barmies are often led by Bill the Trumpet or legendary members who have clocked up more than 100 overseas international matches!
In contrast to the reputations of some sports fans for hooliganism, the Barmy Army organisers actively discourage and avoid such behaviour. Yet many cricket followers find their constant chanting to be annoying, disruptive and irritating, particularly during the afternoon sessions of Test matches when the beer begins to take its toll. The renowned English commentator Christopher Martin-Jenkins once accused them of “demeaning English cricket”.
The Barmy Army has always been mindful of this stereotypical image and has since its inception been involved in charitable projects. In this regard South Africa has a special place in its history. The Barmy Army’s first ever fundraising project was in this country in December 1995 when a £1,000 was collected from touring members and donated to the Soweto Cricket Club. Since then the Barmies have raised over £250,000 for numerous charities around the world.
The company also organises cricket tours for the Barmy Army Colts, with a strong emphasis on charitable work. To date fifteen such tours have been held to various places in the world. Two Colts players have gone on to represent England, Reece Topley and Ben Duckett.
In England itself the Barmy Army is no longer viewed as some motley crew but very much part of the cricket establishment. They are part of the public discourse on all matters relating to cricket. For example its current managing director, Chris Millard, in a recent interview made an impassioned plea against “extortionate” ticket prices for Test matches and the danger that it will drive people away from attending live matches.
Love them or hate them, the Barmy Army is here to stay and will again be here in full force at the end of the year. Better join the party!