Interview: 'We will be back bigger and better' - The Barmy Army

Written By: Subhayan Chakraborty WION Web Team
New Delhi, India Published: Jul 11, 2020, 09.32 PM(IST)

Interview: 'We will be back bigger and better' - The Barmy Army Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

In an exclusive interview with WION, Chris Millard – Managing Director for The Barmy Army and Adam Cannings talked about how the fan group is coping with matches being played behind closed doors, the future for cricket fans, their iconic chants, how the group has grown in stature over the years, meeting Virat Kohli for The Barmy Army awards, and much more.

International cricket has come back to life with the three-match Test series between England and the West Indies. The cricket-starved fans who were direly waiting to witness some live action from the past three months have also seen some light after a tough phase due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As cricket resumed with a new look, fans inside the stadiums were a major missing as empty seats glared at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.

England became the first country to host international cricket after the prolonged break but The Barmy Army, who has become synonymous to England cricket over the years, was nowhere to be seen filling the seats and creating iconic atmosphere with their chants and flags, given the restrictions and health guidelines in place.

The Barmy Army

As The Barmy Army has been emphasizing on their social media platforms that they may not be there in person but they are there in spirit while continuing to support the hosts from whatever available options on social media.

Over their 25-year-long rich history, The Barmy Army has witnessed some unforgettable moments. The group has faced everything. Be it Ashes wins, World Cup wins, many tough defeats, The Barmy Army has witnessed it all. However, one thing they continue to do, since the Ashes 1994-95, is get back behind the team whenever they take the field to represent England. And that sums up their passion for the game and their love for the England cricket team.

 

While no artificial sound can replace the atmosphere that The Barmy Army creates, the new rules are such that matches have to be played behind closed doors, adhering to the government guidelines due to the pandemic.

In an exclusive interview with WION, Chris Millard – Managing Director for The Barmy Army and Adam Cannings talked about how the fan group is coping with matches being played behind closed doors, the future for cricket fans, their iconic chants, how the group has grown in stature over the years, meeting Virat Kohli for The Barmy Army awards, and much more.

Here are the excerpts:

Subhayan Chakraborty: Welcome to WION, Chris and Adam. How are you guys doing?

Chris Millard: We are good! We are alright. We are sat at home, working from home, not being able be in the ground and watching cricket but we are enjoying as much as we can. It’s great that we are seeing some Test cricket again and be good as we can be.

SC: International cricket has resumed from England but no supporters are allowed inside the stadiums. It must be a strange feeling for you all…So how are you all coping with it?

Adam Canning: It is a strange feeling. Ideally, we would at the ground, getting behind the lads. We had sold a lot of tickets this summer and there was a lot of excitement around English cricket after a great summer last year. England are world champions, did well in South Africa, and there is a lot of excitement around. So very strange situation returning into Test cricket this summer with no fans in the ground. But we are doing all we can, to keep fans engaged on our digital channels across social media. We are in touch with the ECB and Sky to make sure there is something from the crowd in the action.

 

SC: Chris, there have been talks about the scattered crowd being allowed in the near future. Will you be able to produce the sort of atmosphere that The Barmy Army is famous for? What’s the feeling in the camp?

Chris Millard: It is still very early stages in the UK. We are making sure that safety is the priority. Everyone has worked so hard at the ECB to get the game on and I think we are still a few months away from getting fans back inside the stadiums, at least in the UK, might be different elsewhere. We are more concerned for the everyone’s safety for now and when the time is right for us to get back into the stadium then we will look into whether or not we can generate atmosphere. Maybe two-three seats apart from each other and I am sure that won’t be a problem. We can make atmosphere wherever we go whether it is two people or two thousand people, we are the experts of creating atmosphere and very knowledgeable about how that might go even if there are restrictions in place but safety first at this minute. We are nowhere looking at being back in the stadium for the foreseeable future I think.

SC: Cricket has come back with a host of changes in the rules. Be it ban on the usage of saliva or COVID substitutions but still the fans are being missed. Artificial crowd sound is being pumped in but it can never replicate the live atmosphere. So what’s your take on the artificial noise?

Adam Canning: Obviously it is not the same without the fans and supporters. Even if you go into our social media platforms, we get comments from so many fans, not just English fans but Indians, Pakistanis saying that watching cricket is not the same without being able to listen to The Barmy Army chants in the background. Our guys have been following the team all around the world and they are missing being there. And we have listened to the players in interviews that we have done in the summer in our podcasts and they have admitted that The Barmy Army pushes their performance by 5 to 10 per cent. So don’t think it is the same for them as well without us being in the ground.

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SC: So Chris, The Barmy Army recently completed its 25 years in what has been a roller-coaster ride. So how did it all start?

Chris Millard: While I wasn’t in the official starting tour back in the day. It started with the three founders, David Peacock, Paul Burnham and Gareth Evans back in 1994/95 in Australia. The first tour they ever went on and the name came from a bunch of England fans getting badly sunburnt and singing songs all day and being there every day of the Test match when the team would get absolutely thrashed, which is typically very British. I know Indian fans don’t like to see their team lose and often leave the ground, same with the Australian fans are exactly the same. But the English fans are very patriotic and even stay when the team is playing rubbish. The Australian press branded them The Army Army – they were Barmy because of being together in the sun and getting burned while watching England team lose and they were Army because they were so many of them. So it got the ground from there and 25 years later now we are a company with 10 staff and we run a travel company that helps fans get to overseas. We do a lot of good stuff on social media as well. It is a bigger organization now with a professional outfit but we have a very humble root from 94/95.

SC: Another important aspect of The Barmy Army is the love they have received from players. Starting from Mike Atherton to now Joe Root, love has always flown in for the group. So does it motivate you to improve with every series or tour?

Chris Millard: Yes, for sure! It is very inspiring. But our main goal is to optimize the cricket team in an active not passive manner. Everyone who signs up to be a Barmy Army member is all on that journey to create the best possible atmosphere possible for the England team and another thing which we do is try and help the England team take a wicket. Once that happens, I think that’s job done. We have been chatting with a lot of players and they can’t really put into words how much admiration they have for The Barmy Army for what it has given to cricket in all these years. It is really nice to hear when they go on record and say how our support helps and enhance their performance sometimes and give them the lift they needed. And I am sure they are missing it right now.

The Barmy Army

SC: So are the chants prepared in advance or it is all spontaneous?

Adam Canning: It is a mix of both really. There are fans who travel all around the world with the team and there are times when they are thinking of a new song or tunes in between a series. But the magic happens when we get in the ground and have talks with musicians a night before or in the build-up to the series. So yes, some of them are pre-prepared and some of them are on the spot like the Mitchell Johnson chant – “he bowls to left, he bowls to the right…” – so it depends on the match situation as well. But we have quite a few creative people in the group and even people on social media send us songs all the time and there are many who don’t want to watch cricket and just listen to our songs. So a lot of variety is there on the table.

SC: Chris, I will come to you for this question. You have a special connection with Joe Root. Can you tell something more about it?

Chris Millard: We have been childhood friends, we have grown up together. Played cricket, football and every other sport together. We have been good friends and it is quite unique that he is the captain of England and I run The Barmy Army. He has had a helping hand in making sure that the company that tours around the world watching cricket. And it is so great to be able to tour around the world, watching a fantastic sportsman and a fantastic captain and when he is your mate then it makes your job a real dream. Honestly, we try and separate the working style when he is in the ground and doing nets, I don’t go over to him like a best mate, so there has to be respect for the England captain. But outside the working environment, we are really good mates and it is so nice to have that relationship.

Chris Millard with Joe Root and Mike Atherton (Photo: The Barmy Army and Sky Sports)

SC: So coming back to The Barmy Army, did you ever think it will reach the stature it has attained today?

Adam Canning: Well, even our co-founders have told us that they never imagined what it has reached today. We have been a beast really. It is a global brand – The Barmy Army – everyone in the world has heard of The Barmy Army. You go to New York and mention the Barmy Army, people would have heard about it. It is unimaginable the growth we have achieved over the years. We have seen a huge growth in our digital channels, we run a really successful podcast. But supporting England and watching cricket all around the world is our absolute priority. For me growing as a fan for the last 10-15 years and now working for The Barmy Army, it is a dream.

The Barmy Army

SC: But with the travel restrictions in place due to pandemic or even if it opens up a bit. Do you guys think it will be a challenge to support England and its cricket as it used to do? You will have to evolve with time…what’s your take on that?

Chris Millard: Everyone has to evolve, isn’t it? The landscape is always changing. There have been so many developments in the business world, sport, music industry. People are adapting to survive and we are no different. We will be adapting we conduct our business but also how we support the England team while making sure we adhere to the guidelines set by the ECB and government. One thing I keep banging the drum is about the safety of all our members and of the entire cricket community. And we are ready to do everything for that be it support the team from the ground or away from it on the social media.  

SC: Another important part of your group is The Barmy Army awards. Virat Kohli has been a recipient of it. So how was it like to meet him in person and hand over the award?

Chris Millard: It was our membership secretary who met Virat and he was very welcoming. He has won it two years in a row – overseas player of the year – and he was extremely welcoming to receive the award. So only good things to say about Virat. I know he is very fond of The Barmy Army, he has gone on record to say how much he loves The Barmy Army chants and how much good it does for the England team. A good bloke in my book.

SC: Coming back to chants, in the Ashes 2010-11 where The Barmy Army literally rattled up Mitchell Johnson. But then he came back pretty strong in the 2013-14 Ashes. So what’s your take on the chants when opposition player gets motivated by it or get better mentally?

Adam Canning: It is an interesting point. Like you mentioned earlier about the preparation behind the chants. A lot goes behind the scenes as to which player reacts how. So there’s a bit of study that goes behind. David Warner, for example, always fails when he comes to England with Stuart Broad getting LBWs and caught behinds within 10 minutes into the play. So we know we can get stuck into David Warner, he doesn’t react too well to it. Whereas Steve Smith, who got a bit of stick in the opening Test, grew into it and people started to say ‘leave him alone’.  The more stick and banter we give it to him, the better he seems to bat. So we passed the Ashes as he didn’t exist and he was a bit of freak honestly. So yes, we definitely think about it in-depth.

SC: I will go back to Ashes 2019 as you touched upon it. The Barmy Army came up with posters and banners about sandpaper. So is it all banter or something serious goes in the background?

Adam Canning: Well, it is banter for sure. But we make sure we never cross the line and keep the principles of cricket in mind to enhance the atmosphere of Test cricket. So we try and create an atmosphere that people enjoy. We are a self-policing organization and we have got a strong group of people who ensure that we never cross the line. It is always banter and light-hearted, and we make sure it is never personal or abuse.

Chris Millard: And what Adam said about self-policing, we operate on a code of conduct. If you are to signup as The Barmy Army member, you are a student of the game and adhere to all the rules we have put out to make sure we never cross the line. England fans in football have got a bad reputation for overseas support and we never want to be tarnish our reputation, so we have to be strict and honest with people to keep everyone in check.

SC: As you spoke about self-policing, we have been seeing the support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Michael Holding, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Nasser Hussain, Mike Atherton and everyone have been brutally honest about racial discrimination on live television. So how do guys stop or react if a fan crosses the line?

Chris Millard: It is a really good point. We are always looking at diversification, we are England fans and typical English fans have certain stereotype and we are looking to address that. But there are cricket fans from all different backgrounds and cultures and no matter who you are, which background, which religion, which culture you belong to, you are welcome as just as long as you are England cricket fans because that’s what we are. And we are going to make sure that we are inclusive to all the communities that we are blessed to have in the UK. And we are looking to address certain policies and make sure we are inclusive to everyone. I think a lot of sports businesses are looking at the same.

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SC: So how is The Barmy Army looking at the future? Will the support be the same?

Chris Millard: We will have more fans! If we are allowed to, then we will take more supporters and if we can then we will take more fans as people are really missing cricket and the England team. We came on the back of a really successful tour of South Africa where we took our own chartered plane from Heathrow to Cape Town, so that is an example of what we can do. So I really think if the India tour goes ahead or the Ashes, then it will be the biggest one ever.

The Barmy Army

SC: What will be your message to the fans all around the world, who are missing being inside stadiums?

Adam Canning: We are on the same boat. Sometimes people take things for granted and realise its role in your life later. People of The Barmy Army and the supporters are hopeful that we will get back to the stadium soon and support Test cricket at home or one of our future tours. We have a massive year lined up as long as COVID allows us to. We are going to go to Amsterdam for a tour and as Chris said hopefully we will be able to go for the Ashes. So it will be worth a wait.

Chris Millard: I pretty much agree with Adam on that. Sit tight, we will be back before you know it. We will be back bigger and better, The Barmy Army. We are doing everything we can to enhance your experience in the UK or overseas. Stay safe, we will get through these difficult times.

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