The Barmy Army debate: Ex-players have their say

Yesterday in <i>The Independent</i>, Dominic Lawson criticised loutish England fans. Here two Test greats, Angus Fraser and Matthew Hayden, give the players' perspective from both sides of the Ashes divide
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The Independent Online

Angus Fraser: Loyal fans who travel to every remote game

As a player there was nothing better than hearing a section of the crowd you were playing in front of chanting your name. The reasons were twofold. The first was obvious: to receive such a response meant you had been or were performing well. The second was subtler: if the supporters had bothered to produce a song with your name, it signified you meant something to them.

In the mid-Nineties it frustrated Nasser Hussain that the Barmy Army had not created a song for him. When it eventually happened he was chuffed, it was as though he had finally made it as an England player.

The impact of the crowd is not always positive, however. There are times when they provide you with a much needed boost, but others when they make your life harder. When you are playing well and the team are winning they are great, but when things are not going your way, you do feel the brunt of their frustrations.

I will never forget taking the second new ball on the opening day at Trent Bridge against Australia in 1989. It was my third Test appearance, the Ashes had gone and Mark Taylor and Geoff Marsh had taken Australia to around 280 for 0. The crowd were quiet as I stood at the end of my run up preparing to bowl from the Radcliffe Road End, and as I gathered my thoughts the silence was broken by a local shouting: "Oi Fraser, why don't you piss off home? You're bloody useless."

The laughter that followed did little to lift my spirits or the team's. Australia went through the day without losing a wicket.

There have been other occasions when the crowd did spur me on. A wet afternoon at Edgbaston in a Test against South Africa in 1998 comes to mind. Their motivation helped me take two wickets at the end of a truncated day.

The Barmy Army, however, have been at their best when England have been playing abroad. It was always uplifting to have people cheering you on in remote corners of the world, and generally they did. At times the "Barmy Army, Barmy Army" chant did become a little monotonous but it was always better than taking grief from the locals.

In the West Indies the home supporters were brilliant, at times very amusing. During a warm-up game at Chedwin Park, Jamaica, in 1998 I was fielding on the boundary when a local said to me: "Fraser, so you're back again for some more licks. You're like an old cow – full of de runs."

On the same tour at Kensington Oval, Barbados, another said: "Fraser, you guys ain't got no fast bowlers, you just got spinners in a hurry."

It is ironic to hear Australians complaining about the behaviour of England fans because the crowds Down Under can be as hostile, partisan and generally unpleasant as any in the world. Standing in front of Bay 13 at the MCG or The Hill at the SCG was not a pleasant experience. When fielding in front of them you would get pelted with fruit, bottles, food or little balloons filled with urine that exploded on impact. You were also advised, understandably, not to accept a drink from anyone on the boundary edge.

There was plenty of verbal abuse too. I wish I had a pound for every time an Aussie fan has shouted at me: "Who's shagging your wife while you're here, mate?" or "I hear she cooks a good breakfast." There were some days when what the crowd said didn't matter, others when you felt like climbing over the hoardings and doing an Eric Cantona.

Generally, however, cricket supporters are the same the world over. In the majority of areas they tend to be well-behaved but there will always be sections which are unruly.

There is no doubt the nature of the Barmy Army is changing. In becoming a commercial venture it has lost some of its innocence and attracted a few unsavoury individuals. An example of this is the booing of Ricky Ponting, which does sound a little more spiteful than the old pantomime villain treatment. Ponting did, however, receive a genuine and warm standing ovation when he passed Allan Border's tally of Test runs in Birmingham.

The behaviour on the Western Terrace at Headingley this weekend will be interesting, but it should not be connected with the Barmy Army. They were behaving boorishly there before the Army was created.

Matthew Hayden: Ricky Ponting is enemy No 1 but he takes it all in good humour

Criticising the Barmy Army is a bit like speaking of countries and saying they're all such and such – you can't group everyone together. One or two people in a ground will always have too much to drink, but rather than discriminate against the whole, you have to react to those one or two. The Barmy Army is not an army – people near them sing along. It might not be those guys that actually cause any trouble.

People love to sing and entertain themselves. Cricket shouldn't forget that there's a certain element of getting bums on seats and that spectators in a ground have a right to have a good time. I reckon the Barmy Army create a great atmosphere, and a uniquely English atmosphere. At overseas Tests they help fill stadiums and they have a good economic impact. At Brisbane, say, the money spent by thousands of people arriving in town provides wonderful spurts of revenue for that period. That's the business of sport.

A bit like I was when I was playing over here, Ricky Ponting has found himself enemy No 1, but he takes it all in good spirit. It creates passion and liveliness. Some comments are over the top, for sure. Singing to Shane Warne, "Where's your Missus gone?" That's not on. Give the bloke a break. He's entertained people around the globe for 20 years. Before him, people would sing to David Boon: "He's fat, he's round, he bounces on the ground, he's David Boon." But there's a general rule: do unto others as you'd like to be treated.

On balance, I think the grounds should pick out the one or two trouble makers and throw them out. They're probably not even members of the Barmy Army. It's what we do in Australia. When you've got 80,000 people at the MCG, hundreds can be thrown out each day. But you can't kick out everyone just for having a beer. But I think all this shows is the inadequacies of the grounds. In Australia, people are only allowed light beer. They monitor the crowds, and if people throw stuff in the air, they're asked to go. You always get one or two clowns.

Many grounds take for granted the protection of the athletes. At the end of a day, with alcohol having an effect, the situation can erupt. I've had experiences like that at grounds all over the world. Once in New Zealand, after a day-night game at Dunedin, I was on the way back to the hotel, this guy took exception to me. He was hammered, and basically wanted a fight. I managed to get out of the situation, but the next morning there was a knife in the tyre of the team bus with a note saying: "Hayden your family will suffer."

It's not new either. In 1993, in Leicester, Tim Zoehrer, our reserve wicketkeeper, was hit by a spectator as we walked through the stadium back to the bus. In Australia we have "sterile zones" with no alcohol at many grounds. It certainly helps.

But you can't have a total policy of "no alcohol" – I don't think so. The game just has to grow up and be more supportive of players. But don't criticise the masses when it's just a few. The Barmy Army entertain people across the world. Test cricket is going through a challenging time, so let's not get rid of the fan base, just manage it.