When international cricket returns to the stadium for the first time next month after the Covid pandemic shut down all sporting activity, its most iconic fans want to make their presence felt — or rather, their voice heard.
And so, the 33,000-strong Barmy Army has asked the England and Wales Cricket Board to use the PA system at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton to belt out recordings of their famous chants and anthems to cheer up the English team that take on the West Indies from July 8-12.
Cricket is returning with a tentative first step, and fans will not be allowed in the stadium. “We are really hopeful that they will accept our offer. It’s totally up to the England and Wales Board’s discretion,” Chris Millard, managing director of Barmy Army, told The Sunday Express.
The fans came up with the offer after England captain Joe Root said that “a few Barmy Army chants a couple of times a session would be nice… If we need a wicket or something, I am sure the lads would appreciate that”.
The last international match was an ODI between Australia and New Zealand that was played without fans in Sydney on March 13. And Millard admits that the comeback, too, will be tough for fans. “This will be the first time that a cricket match featuring England will not have our presence in the stadium. It feels strange, but given the unprecedented situation that we currently find ourselves in, we are just delighted that there’s finally some cricket happening,” he says.
Since the 1994-95 Ashes series, when about 50 supporters were first spotted wearing Barmy Army shirts with the Union Jack emblazoned on the back, all England games have started with a trumpeter leading the travelling fans’ rendition of ‘Jerusalem’, the song popular among all English sports fans.
Following the team around the world for a quarter of a century hasn’t been easy, though.
In March, a few Barmy Army members were stranded in Sri Lanka when the series was cancelled due to the rising number of Covid cases. “Some of our members had already arrived before the cancellation was announced, and got stranded. Thankfully, the British High Commission intervened and got them back to the UK. Owing to the uncertainty, I must admit that it was the most difficult tour we had endured in 25 years,” says Millard.
For the July series, he says, they are going the extra mile to “replicate” the stadium atmosphere online. “We are currently looking to have some form of digital interaction with all our members and fans. They can log in to our homepage and sing and chant when the match is on. Jerusalem will be played at the start of every day’s play along with the signature trumpet,” he says.
“The fact that international cricket is resuming under the current circumstances will be massive… and I dare say, it can have the same effect that the Ashes wins of 1981 and 2005, and last year’s historic 50-over World Cup triumph, had on the general mood and sentiment,” he says.
The next big hope? India.
“It would be great if we can tour India next year for the Test series. It’s a great country to travel. Cricket is revered in that part of the world and the support for their team is just incredible,” he says, even though there was a bit of a flutter when they last visited four years ago.
In 2016, during the first Test at Rajkot, the government’s sudden demonetisation decision put the English fans in a spot. “Some of us had run out of cash. Thankfully, the British High Commission came to our rescue by providing us with details of ATMs from where we could get fresh currency notes,” says Millard.
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