Offside, 28 July
No Barmy Army at Lords? That just isn’t cricket.
Although the atmosphere in stadiums is not what it used to be, there is still such a thing as ‘home advantage’ in football, where vocal support can lift the home team. By contrast, the concept of home advantage in cricket is non-existent when England play at Lords.
It’s a depressing statistic that the last time England beat Australia in a test match at Lords was in 1934. You’d think that the English cricket authorities would want to maximise any potential advantage to bring an end to that dismal record, wouldn’t you?
Well you’d be wrong. Although every other English test ground has allocated 150 seats to the Barmy Army for the Ashes series, Lords refused. I’m not suggesting that a bunch of blokes dressed as Elvis singing ‘Return to Sender’ would have put the fear of God into the Aussies, but a bit of noisy partisan home support wouldn’t have gone amiss. Apart from the occasional chant of ‘Where’s your caravan?’ directed at Aussie pace bowler Jason Gillespie, the atmosphere during the first test was largely muted, bordering on the downright funereal.
Not that we should be surprised that the Barmy Army are unwelcome at Lords. Over the years the English cricket authorities have done their best to extinguish any manifestations of high spirits at the home of cricket. My earliest memory of visiting Lords was watching England against the West Indies in 1976. It was the series in which the England captain Tony Greig had famously declared that he wanted to make the West Indies ‘grovel’.
I can’t remember much about the match itself but I’ll never forget the non-stop Caribbean carnival that accompanied the West Indies’ innings. There were bugles and horns and fans beating out calypso rhythms using beer cans. Every West Indian boundary was greeted with a cacophony of noise. Whenever Greig ventured anywhere near the boundary rope he was mocked and jeered by West Indies fans. It was great fun but, unsurprisingly, the cricket establishment weren’t so enamoured and banned musical instruments from cricket grounds in the 1980s. As a result, if you watch the West Indies play at Lords today, there is precious little atmosphere and far fewer black faces.
Another traditional pocket of boisterous behaviour at Lords was the old Tavern Bar, where spectators used to stand and watch the game, pint of beer in hand. Invariably the ruddy-faced beer boys would congregate there and become increasingly vocal throughout the day. If you watched a one-day final on television in the 1970s you would always hear endless drunken choruses of ‘Lancashire-la-la-la’ emanating from the Tavern Bar. There was even the occasional scuffle. Little surprise that the Tavern Bar standing area was a casualty of refurbishment in the 1980s.
The emergence of the Barmy Army in the 1994/5 Ashes series signalled a new, more vociferous breed of English cricket fan. Although the Barmy Army might appear to the English cricket establishment as drunken louts they are actually a bunch of well brought-up middle-class chaps trying to imitate working-class football fans – the archetypal new lads. They dress in England colours, they display England flags and banners and they sing soccer-style terrace chants. There’s a bit too much fancy dress for my liking but you can’t fault them for getting behind their team and dishing out abuse to the opposition. In Australia they regale the home supporters with renditions of ‘You all live in a convict colony’ (to the tune of ‘Yellow Submarine’) and other abusive ditties from their extensive repertoire.
While the Barmy Army has been feted in the Aussie media, they initially received a much cooler reception from the English cricket authorities. At the start of the 1995 season the Test and County Cricket Board issued a statement declaring that their ‘repetitive noise and chanting would be unacceptable in our grounds’. That year stewards at test matches in England confiscated Barmy Army song sheets and, in one absurd incident during the final test at the Oval, they seized an inflatable Mr Blobby. Although official attitudes to the Barmy Army have softened over time, the refusal to allow them a dedicated seating area at Lords shows that the egg-and-bacon tie brigade still prefers polite applause to raucous chanting.
If the blazers would rather see cricket die than be overrun by drunken oiks then they are going about it the right way. The Barmy Army may not be able to halt English cricket’s decline but a test match is a much more colourful and entertaining spectacle when they are in full voice. And, in any case, if the Ashes series does turn into an embarrassing Aussie victory parade, we’ll have to find other ways to entertain ourselves. If we can’t beat Shane Warne we can at least sing vulgar songs about him.
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