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With England an unbeatable 3-0 up ahead of the final Test series at the Oval on Wednesday, the Barmy Army will be out in force.

 It’s a vastly different picture to when the devoted fanbase first formed in 1994-95, and through to the Noughties, when England were largely Australia’s whipping boys. The contrasting results of the eras make no difference to co-founder Paul Burnham. 

“It was so normal for the Brits,” says Burnham, 48, who started the Army with mates Dave Peacock and Gareth Evans. “We support our team regardless. It’s always been about looking on the bright side of life and making the most of every little victory – a 50, a hat-trick or a partnership from the tail. The Aussie fans couldn’t understand it. They were so used to winning.”

There wasn’t a chance to do otherwise – the Aussies had won the Ashes since 1989 and went on to win series in 1997, 1998-99, 2001 and 2002-03. But the Barmies kept singing.

In tune: Billy ‘the Trumpet’ Cooper just wants to add to the atmosphere

The tide turned in 2005 with a two-run win at Edgbaston, which Burnham reckons changed everything. “After then I think England certainly gained a psychological edge,” he says. England could outplay the dominant Aussies.

“I think [the 5-0 whitewash in] 2006-07 would have happened either way, with the amazing side Australia had, but I think in ‘05 we realised that with some positive cricket and the crowd getting behind them, they could be a force. I’ve never known an atmosphere like that – I guess there was something like it in 1981 when [Ian] Botham did his magic, but ‘05 was remarkable for the atmosphere. I will never forget that.”

Whether winning a tight one or getting pasted away from home, the Barmy Army attitude never wavers. “When we go away from an English winter we go to some very nice countries – the subcontinent, Caribbean, Australia. We’ve paid a lot of money to support the team, but wouldn’t let our whole trip be decided by the way they go on the pitch.”

The Barmy Army bans negative chat at the ground – Burnham wasn’t a fan of Mitchell Johnson jibe, He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, Mitchell Johnson your bowling is shite. “Discuss it in the bar,” Burnham says of anything other than encouragement. And no favourites.

“Everybody’s your favourite. We started supporting a team that was losing and giving 100 per cent, and that’s all we ask of the team, regardless of the result,” he adds.

As winners though, and with new blood always arriving as part of what is now a significant business venture as well as a fan facilitating group, some need to be reminded of where the Army comes from. “I get worried about some of the younger guys who are getting too used to England winning, and they’re a bit critical, so we have to remind them what it’s about. On the whole, the Barmy Army ethos is there.”

Their philosophy aside, the Barmies are best remembered by those who’ve shared a ground with them for songs. Their chants of “We’ve got three dollars to the pound” have expired with exchange rates, but they continue to add to their songbook. Unfortunately for them, the best new addition to the repertoire – about Ashton Agar to the tune of Black Lace’s Agadoo – is redundant after the young spinner was dropped and is unlikely to feature at the Oval.

“The songs have got cleverer over time,” Burnham says. “They’re important because no one wants to hear ‘En-ger-land’ any more than they want to hear ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi’ over and over again. And on tour, six hours a day for five Tests is an awful lot of time to come up with something. I like anything that’s witty, without any swear words in it.”

One member of the group never likely to be heard swearing on crowd cam is Billy ‘the Trumpet’ Cooper. He became a regular fixture when he spotted a Barmy Army member in Antigua with a trumpet he had lost in a taxi in Barbados on England’s tour of the Caribbean in 2004.


Barmy barracks: The famed Army of English cricket fans formed when their team was crap – has Ashes success changed them?
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