Following my recent admission that I’m rather fond of the Big Bash, here’s another thing this one-time purist didn’t expect to say: I recently watched most of a test match with the Barmy Army…. and loved it.
This came to pass because, coincidentally, Jo, a friend from the UK, was on the Barmy Army tour in NZ. Having met up fairly briefly in Auckland, the general admission seating arrangement in Christchurch gave the opportunity to chat further and for me to have some company when I’d otherwise be alone. So I hunted Jo and her Barmy mates out on day one and set up camp. And I kept coming back.
Like any England cricket fan, I’m familiar with the Army and love both the support they give the team through thick and thin and the atmosphere they bring. But I’m used to keeping a bit of distance (sitting upstairs in the same stand in Melbourne was perfect, for example) and singing along under my breath. Full disclosure: I do have previous. Eleven years ago when I was young, very keen to be seen on TV by my friends back home, and more than a little inebriated, I chanted and danced like a loon on the embankment at the Bellerive Oval with a smattering of others (few of the Army survived that long into an epic tour), as England snatched an unlikely ODI victory, the first win of the whole ill-fated 2006/7 tour. But I’d always thought that Barmy day, which ended with getting trollied with the England team, a glorious and frivolous one-off from my youth. I’m delighted to be wrong!
For four days over Easter weekend, I sang, was on telly several times and, above all, watched a lot of cricket with fellow fans who love and appreciate the game. It was that which struck me most of all, the appreciation of the game. Yes, there was singing, but not incessantly so by any means. In between the songs, I overheard (and sometimes joined) conversations about the English batting order, the merits or otherwise Neil Wagner’s short-pitched bowling, and the appropriateness of the punishments meted out to Australia’s ball tamperers.
Unlike in the non-Barmy seats in Auckland, people didn’t generally move around in front of others in the middle of overs (my personal cricket-watching bugbear). And, although there was of course alcohol around, I didn’t see anyone I’d describe as remotely drunk. Indeed, the atmosphere was so family friendly that there were three or four mini Barmies in attendance, aged between about 1 and 5. Not a bit the boozy, lairy, chanty, sweary crowd that some might expect. I also saw and spoke to several people who were travelling alone, for whom the Army was an opportunity for company and new friendships. Evening events, including one with Aggers and another with Graeme Swann during the Christchurch test, certainly add to that. I have to say I regret not tagging along to the Swanny do!
Add this fun to being in a city I lived in and loved for a year before it was hit by earthquakes, and at a beautiful ground in a middle of a park watching a very competitive test match, you can probably understand why I didn’t want to leave at tea on Day 4 for my flight home. So thank you, Jo, Jen, Gill and the Barmies for a fabulous few days. And for teaching me the lyrics to the songs I’ve been half-hearing for months (in some cases years). And for about a week after leaving NZ, I had “oh Jonny Bairstow, you are the love of my life” (to the tune of I love you, baby, and if it’s quite alright…” going round and round and round my head. Even typing this is enough to set it off again… it’s a good thing I do quite like Jonny.