Barmy Army to Swami Army: Cricket's fandom at World Cup

Cricket’s history with dedicated fan groups is relatively recent and has its roots in England.

Barmy Army is an ever-growing fan group that attracts fans from all ages and backgrounds and is committed to make cricket watching more fun.   -  Getty Images

Crazy fan groups following their teams around the world is not an image that comes to mind when one thinks of cricket. Football, its working-class counterpart, however, was built on the strong foundations of passionate fan support.

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Cricket’s history with dedicated fan groups is relatively recent and has its roots in England. Here is a look at all the major fan groups in international cricket.

The Barmy Army

The birth of the Barmy Army can be traced back to a story of undying loyalty and desire for having a good time in a hopeless situation. A struggling England side, led by Michael Atherton, visited Australia for the 1994-95 Ashes series and before the start of the fourth Test in Adelaide, it was already losing the series 2-0.

The travelling England fans, however, were unwavering in their chants and support. The Australian media called them ‘barmy’, which is a slang for mad - presumably because of how insane those people must have been to travel all the way to support a team that was almost destined to lose.

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One of the founding members of the group, Paul Burnham told news.com.au in an interview that on the first day of the Adelaide Test, he and a few of his friends went into a clothing store and got 50 shirts printed with the Union Jack flag and the words, “Atherton’s Barmy Army”.

The shirt quickly became popular and soon, as word spread, there were around 200 more wearing it. England went on to win the Adelaide Test, remembered as what started it all for the ‘Barmy Army’ - now a registered company limited that is dedicated to bringing “cricket to the masses, provide tickets and organise tours to support the team wherever they are playing.”

It’s an ever-growing fan group that attracts fans from all ages and backgrounds and is committed to making watching cricket more popular and fun through songs, chants, anthems and more. Most stadiums in England have a designated stand for the Barmy Army.

Bharat Army

A video of the Indian team celebrating its Test series victory in Australia with a group of fans went viral.

Those fans were part of the ‘Bharat Army’ which was founded during the 1999 World Cup, when four Indian fans from different parts of UK decided to gather as many Indian fans as possible to watch an India-Pakistan match. Clearly, the ‘Army’ moniker had caught on.

The Bharat Army has grown from a UK-based supporters’ group to gain a global presence.   -  V.V. KRISHNAN

 

As it completes 20 years, the Bharat Army has grown from a UK-based supporters’ group to gain a global presence with supporters’ groups in India, Australia, UAE, USA and New Zealand. It also arranges tours for Indian fans travelling to tournaments and series around the world. However, Bharat Army is one of India’s major fan groups.

Swami Army

The Swami Army began as a small group of passionate Indian fans following their team around Australia during the 2003/04 tour Down Under. It grew “from its core group of 10 supporters to a large one and started occupying M14 of the MCG and Bay 26 of the SCG”, by the end of the tour where India came close to beating Australia.

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The Swami Army, too, has grown from a supporters group based in Australia to “regiments” in different parts of the world and organises tour groups for fans to follow their passion with like-minded people.

Both the Indian fan groups claim to be the biggest and it’s hard to say for sure who’s right.

Stani Army

Here’s another ‘Army’; this one is a group of Pakistani supporters based in the UK who set out to create an equivalent of the Barmy Army. The launch of their website in 2008, which facilitated discussions among fellow Pakistan fans on social network forums and during matches, helped  them grow in number.

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It’s not hard to spot the Stani Army, which stands out during matches, with their character outfits, like Mr Pakistan, the Sheikh, the King, Dictator and more. They, too, help organise overseas tours for fellow fans. With the World Cup in England this time, we can expect quite a noticeable turnout.

Beige Brigade

The Beige Brigade is about unlimited fun and mirth while passionately rallying behind their team - like all fan groups. But the wacky and “uncool” beige jersey they wear to New Zealand games, is what sets the Beige Brigade apart.

A group of dedicated New Zealand fans began wearing home sewn beige uniforms to New Zealand matches. The uniform is a version of the unattractive official beige jersey of the New Zealand cricket team of the 1980s and it quickly became popular as a throwback to the halcyon days of New Zealand cricket.

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The beige uniform is an odd expression of Kiwi pride. The Beige Brigade sells these shirts together with a “moral contract” which explains what it means to be a Beige Brigadier.

When one of the founding members of the Brigade was asked by cricketweb.net about the choice of the colour, he replied: “It’s an icon colour for cricket in new Zealand. It’s bloody awful too, so quite eye-catching. It’s just so uncool. With New Zealand playing in a multitude of mostly terrible colours, and now happy to be playing in the conservative black gear, donning Beige Brigade kit has become emblematic for those calling themselves passionate New Zealand cricketing supporters.”

The Brigade had a huge impact on the nation’s sporting culture. So much so that the New Zealand cricket team wore a version of the beige uniform for the first-ever men's T20 international against Australia. Beige also made a major appearance on New Zealand’s kit for the ICC World Twenty20 in 2016.