The first time I saw the headline I thought it must be a misprint.
‘England will STOP PLAY during an Ashes Test if abuse from Australian crowds crosses the line with captain Joe Root empowered by Ashley Giles to take the strongest possible action’.
I read further. No, it wasn’t a misprint.
England managing director Giles had indeed given Root his full backing to call a halt to proceedings during play, ‘should the traditionally raucous Ashes atmosphere in Australia cross the line of acceptability.’
The England cricket team telling Australian crowds what is acceptable when it comes to barracking? They must be joking.
England Test captain Joe Root (on the far right, with his teammates) will tell his side to stop play if sledging from Aussie crowds gets under their skin – but it was the Pommy fans who turned insulting opposition players into an art form
The Barmy Army – seen here during the Boxing Day Ashes Test in 2017 – specialise in picking out vulnerable cricketers and hammering them for an entire series
Let’s be fair dinkum here. It wasn’t Australian cricket crowds who turned personal abuse and mental torment of opposition players into an art form, it was the English.
Oh sure, they dress it up in silly costumes and clever lyrics and say that it’s all harmless fun, but don’t be fooled. The Barmy Army is as much a part of England’s arsenal as James Anderson’s outswinger.
There is nothing ad-lib or impromptu about it, such as you might get from an Australian supporter who has had too many beers in the sun. It’s as well planned as the lunar landings. They pick out a player who they believe is vulnerable or particularly dangerous, find a sensitive spot and aim at it constantly, over after over, day after day, Test after Test until the series, and the droning din, is mercifully over.
Yes, they can be humorous for the first session or two, and there is no denying they add colour and atmosphere to Test cricket’s greatest showpiece, but for the Poms to lecture Australian fans about barracking etiquette is the height of hypocrisy.
Giles and Root are quite right in saying that England players should not have to put up with cheer squads crossing the line into racism and mental health – and neither should Australian players – but what about other personal areas, such as family?
Former Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson and his wife Jessica (pictured together) were targeted by England’s Barmy Army fans during the 2009 Ashes
In 2009 the mother of Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson told a reporter that she and Johnson’s wife Jessica were barely on speaking terms, a situation that Johnson later admitted was causing him great emotional pain.
The Barmy Army jumped on the story and produced a ditty that its members sang incessantly.
To the tune of ‘The Addams Family’ TV show theme, complete with clicking fingers and handclaps, it went, ‘His missus hates his mother, his mother hates his missus, they hate each other, the Johnson Family.’
Funny? Not it you were Mitchell Johnson, who would remain firmly in the crosshairs of the England supporters throughout his career.
During his time as Australian captain, Steve Waugh set an unfortunate chain of events in motion when he encouraged a team culture of verbal and psychological intimidation of opposition players that he called ‘mental disintegration’.
The Barmy Army followed his lead and set it to music. In 2015 I had a front row seat to witness their relentless bullying of Johnson starting in Cardiff and ending at the Oval in London six weeks later.
Every time he so much as looked at the ball, they would break into the same grating dirge to the tune of ‘Sloop John B’. They would sing it in trains and buses on the way to and from the grounds, in pubs and on the street. For months after the series, I couldn’t get it out of my head.
‘He bowls to the left … he bowls to the right. That Mitchell Johnson, his bowling is shite.’
It did the trick. By the end of the series Johnson was a nervous wreck and retired soon afterwards. For Barmy Army co-founder Dave Peacock, it was a case of mission accomplished.
The Barmy Army hit a new low when they came up with a vile song about David Warner and his wife Candice (pictured together) in 2018
The English fan’s chant referenced rumours South Africa’s Quinton de Kock made a ‘disgusting’ comment about Warner’s wife during a Test in 2018. The Aussie batter had to be held back during a fiery exchange with the Proteas star (pictured)
‘The Barmy Army is always looking to get into the minds of opposition players and in the months leading up to the 2010/11 series in Australia we decided to target him,’ Peacock wrote in an article soon after Johnson’s retirement.
Peacock said England close-in fielders had been singing the songs to Johnson when he was batting, and that England wicket-keeper Matt Prior had even contacted a member of the Barmy Army during a Test match to tell them to keep up the barrage because it was working.
In 2018 the Barmy Army sunk to new depths when they referenced David Warner’s wife Candice Falzon in one of their songs.
During that year’s infamous ‘Sandpapergate’ series in South Africa, Warner had been involved in a heated scuffle under the grandstand with Proteas’ wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, who he claimed had made a ‘vile and disgusting’ comment about his wife.
Legendary Aussie Test captain Steve Waugh got the ball rolling when he encouraged a team culture of verbal intimidation. The Barmy Army (pictured) set it to music – but while Australian players have copped that on the chin, England under Joe Root aren’t following suit
While the details were never made public, it was believed that de Kock had made mention of the much-publicised dalliance between the-then single Ms Falzon and rugby league player Sonny Bill Williams.
Never ones to let an opportunity go by, the Barmy Army songsters zeroed in on the under-siege Warner and his wife.
After labelling him and his team-mates ‘cheating Aussie convicts’, they put on their Facebook page:
‘Oh … Davie Warner’s Aussie,
He wears the baggy green,
He dribbles like a caveman,
His behaviour is obscene.
He’s rather fond of Candy,
She gives him such a thrill.
But when he offers her de Kock,
She begs for Sonny Bill.’
You have to wonder on which side of the England team management’s ‘line of acceptability’ those lyrics fall.
Maybe, because they don’t mention racism or mental health, they believe families are fair game.
Which raises the question, why are England officials so concerned about those issues? Do they really believe that Australian cricket fans would be so insensitive as to target players who are vulnerable in either area?
Or are they worried that some budding Aussie songwriter will take a leaf out of the Barmy Army’s book and pen a catchy tune about the recent racism allegations made by former Yorkshire player against ex-England captain Michael Vaughan?
New Australian Test skipper Pat Cummins (third from right) won’t be telling his team to down tools if the Barmy Army stay true to form and engage in no-holds-barred sledging
But if some idiot in the crowd does overstep the line in those areas, do Giles and Root believe it is up to them, and not ground security, to take the appropriate action?
Or is this whole thing just a lame attempt to counter the crowd imbalance, with Covid travel restrictions meaning the majority of the Barmy Army will be confined to barracks?
Or possibly even a marketing ploy at the request of Cricket Australia to move some of those tickets still available to the Sydney Test for the first time in memory?
Either way, the fact remains, if English cricket officials believe the Barmy Army is the gold standard for crowd support around the world, then the game is in a lot of trouble.