Of fans and fanfare

Every sport has pillars that support it. They are the players themselves, the administrators, the media, the sponsors, but above all are the fans. Without the fans, the game would be poorer and the players would not enjoy playing.

Die-hard followers... a member of the Barmy Army greets an Indian fan during a Test match between India and England in Motera, Ahmebdad, in 2012.   -  S. Subramanium

The England cricket team is in India, and as it happens on all their overseas tours, they have a band of loyal followers who travel to whichever country they are playing in and cheer for them. There are many such groups in England and they bring with them their banners of support and slogans, and also those of their favourite football club team.

The most famous group is the Barmy Army. They have their own logo, their own travel agents and have some sort of official recognition of the England and Wales Cricket Board. The players also recognise their support and so make the effort to meet up with them after a game, or whenever they can. Of course, it is not possible for the group to stay in the same hotels as the English team does, but in smaller towns and cities, where commuting is not a problem, the Barmy Army does manage to get to the hotel where the team stays and meet them.

In Rajkot, there didn’t seem to be too many from the Barmy Army and that could be because of the paucity of hotels in the city. However, in the metros like Mumbai and Chennai, there will certainly be a larger presence of the Barmy Army. With Christmas and the New Year not far off, many a supporter will look to go on a holiday with family either to centres in India or nearby countries, especially where the winter will not be as severe as it is in England.

 

Allan Lamb is getting a group over for the Mumbai Test; he is also taking the group to Jaipur and possibly Agra for sightseeing after the Test is over. Earlier, it was John Snow who always used to take a group of supporters to wherever the England team was playing.

The Australians have groups under the guidance of Allan Border and Merv Hughes that travel to England and India whenever the Aussie team is touring those countries. And they have a tremendous time. They all can be found in one section of the stadium, all distinct in the uniforms of their group, which makes it easier for the TV cameras to spot them, and their families and friends watching the telecast back home can see them.

There is a group that calls itself the Bharat Army that also travels wherever India is playing. This group is mainly from England and, like the Barmy Army, has membership fees, etc. — just like a regular club. They sometimes publish newsletters about their tours or impending tours. They are fanatical supporters and quite vocal in their cheering for the Indian team.

Unfortunately, they don’t get to meet the Indian players as much as the Barmy Army gets to meet the English players. This is only due to security reasons. Besides, the anti-corruption unit is also not keen on the Indian players meeting people whom they don’t know.

Then there are a few individuals, who have become famous for their support of their national teams. Percy Abeysekera of Sri Lanka is famous all over the world for his waving of the Sri Lankan flag and for his humorous comments that he shouts out to the players on the field. He would be sponsored by some corporates, who would make Percy wear their shirts or logos since they know that he would definitely be shown on TV a few times. In the West Indies there was ‘Chikki’ and ‘Gravvy’ in Antigua and King Dyall in Barbados, who used to wear suits in colours that have become fashionable now but were thought of as a no-no back then. Chikki used to perform the disco after the day’s play was over in one section of the stand, while Gravvy was known for his acrobatics in drag.

In India, too, there are fans of Tendulkar and Dhoni who paint themselves in the Indian tri-colours and wave the national flag vigorously for hours on end, especially when the team is doing well. Unlike Percy, Chikki and Gravvy and others, who had regular jobs and incomes, it is not known if the Indian flag-wavers have any fixed job and look after their families.

Every sport has pillars that support it. They are the players themselves, the administrators, the media, the sponsors, but above all are the fans. Without the fans, the game would be poorer and the players would not enjoy playing.

I take a bow to the genuine fan, for he makes the game richer in more ways than he will ever know.