Barmy Army: The cricket supporters known the world over finding their own way to watch the Ashes
At around 11pm next Tuesday, more than 150 people will be packing into a bar near London’s Victoria railway station.
Tuesday night isn’t always the night for making late plans in the capital. But this is no normal Tuesday.
At the stroke of midnight, heads will turn to one of the many screens as the opening ball of the 2021 Ashes series is bowled.
Barmy Army party
The Barmy Army, globally known throughout sporting circles, cannot be in Australia this year, but that won’t stop them turning up for the ultimate Ashes party.
“We cannot wait,” said Chris Millard, the managing director of the Barmy Army. “We can’t really be down there so this is the next best thing.
“Basically we’re going to get all of the Army members across the country to sleep in all day and stay up all night supporting the boys.
“We’re spending days one, three and four here and day two in Manchester.
“I think there will be a cult following this year and people are going to be watching every Ashes Test across the two months.
“We just wanted to bring a lot of people together and see if we can do better than our last tour down there [a 4-0 loss].”
Ashes tours Down Under haven’t always been fruitful for England. Of the 25 Tests played in Australia since 2000, England have won just four.
More than 25 years ago in 1994, England travelled to Oz looking to stop the hosts from retaining the coveted Ashes for the third consecutive time.
There was an almost hopeless chance of an England victory – and most of Australia knew it.
However, in the stands were a group of English fans cheering, hooping and sledging, of course.
Dubbed ‘The Barmy Army’ by Australian media due to their hopeless devotion to a losing cause, that small group has turned into one of sport’s most celebrated fanbases.
More, More, More
“We’ve got two and a half thousand ex-pats that are registered to the Barmy Army so we’ll hope to see them in the stands,” Millard continued.
“That’s nothing like our usual numbers. We usually have 30 or 40,000 travelling down there across the five Tests.
“Unfortunately we’re not going to be travelling but our ex-pats will still be there, in the sun, with their Barmy Army flags, albeit not quite in the same level that we normally do.”
The 2017-18 Ashes was a shambles for Joe Root’s men. England’s batters couldn’t match those of the Baggy Greens and the bowlers struggled to top the stats too.
Australia won the opening test by 10 wickets, the second by 120 runs and the third by an innings and 41 runs.
It was over before it really began. Even Alastair Cook’s 244 not out in the fourth Test in Melbourne could only help England to a draw.
There was one constant, though. The monumental sound of England support on every day of every Test.
It’s easy to overstate the presence of a few thousand Barmy supporters in a 100,000 capacity stadium but they often drown out the home support.
“It’s hard to say anything beats it to be honest,” Millard continued.
“You have some amazing tours to places like Barbados and the West Indies, Sri Lanka, South Africa – just incredible places.
“But Australia just has everything. Except Australians can get a little bit annoying when you’re losing 3-0.”
Such a Paine
The captain until recently, Tim Paine, stepped down last month after it emerged he sent explicit messages and has been replaced with Pat Cummins.
Paine and the Barmy Army have sledged each other in recent months, with the supporter group joking how they had the same number of Test centuries as the former captain.
Paine has been completely dropped from the squad this week, replaced with an uncapped Alex Carey who said he was “humbled” at the opportunity.
“It’s all a bit of banter, it’s all in the spirit of the tour,” said Millard. “We have a lot of laughs in the stands with the Aussies and they’re good sports.
“We give as good as we take, Tim Paine knows that.
“He’s borne the brunt of it.
“There’s no other sport quite like cricket. The sledging, the heated banter but also the respect, too.”
Millard and hundreds of others will be enjoying nocturnal pints and burgers for the coming weeks, and they’ll be right behind Joe Root’s men as they look to regain the Ashes from favourites Australia.
“We are right behind you England,” he said, when asked what his message of support was to the touring party.
“We’re following you and supporting you. We want you to do the best you can and we will be right behind you until that fifth day of the fifth Test. Come on.” What he said.