Going Barmy, by Paul Winslow

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The Independent Culture

With the possible exception of Geoffrey Boycott, nothing seems to polarise opinion among English cricket supporters quite like the Barmy Army.

Are they a bunch of beer-sodden buffoons, or fervent, knowledgeable fans who travel far and wide to cheer on an appreciative England team? Both, according to this insiders' account from a self-confessed "travel junkie, beer lover and cricket addict", who has also worked for the somewhat rickety business side of the Army.

While he glories unashamedly in the massive piss-ups the Army enjoy, he also points out the positives of their presence, such as boosting income and attendances in the other Test-playing nations and lifting the spirits of the England players, who almost unanimously welcome their presence and are not above joining in their liquid celebrations.

Graeme Swann in the foreword writes: "Getting your own Barmy Army song is a badge of honour… They are the very heartbeat of our team abroad. And I love them for it."

They have generally been more honoured abroad – the Aussie press coined their nickname on the 1995-96 tour, despite the Army's version of Waltzing Matilda which started "I shagged Matilda, I shagged Matilda". The songs have got wittier, and with Billy the Trumpet (a postgraduate of the Royal Academy of Music) leading the revels, they seem here to stay.

This sparky memoir may not convert many doubters, but it's no less diverting for that.

Published in paperback by SportsBooks, £8.99