England~~s Barmy Army undaunted by Ashes loss

Published: Sunday, December 24, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Sydney:England may have lost the Ashes but its Barmy Army cheer squad is still in good humour as it prepares to host its biggest ever Christmas and New Year's parties Down Under.

Thousands of English cricket fans are expected to join a Christmas Day barbecue on the banks of Melbourne's Yarra River ahead of the Boxing Day Test.

A few days later some 4,000 are expected at a party in Sydney on New Year's Eve, organisers say.

The fans are undaunted by Australia's unassailable 3-0 lead in the much-hyped Test series and the possibility of a humiliating 5-0 whitewash.

"It won't stop anyone enjoying themselves, they are going to Australia for a party," Barmy Army co-founder David Peacock told AFP from Melbourne.

"We lost the Ashes at Perth and it was the Barmy Army who were singing for over an hour until the boys came out."

Since its inception in Brisbane 14 years ago, the Barmy Army has grown from 30 backpackers to a business employing two full-time staff and catering for thousands of English sports fans.

Australian fans initially pelted the army with missiles, such as plastic cups and meat pies, but it has grown to become an integral part of Ashes cricket Down Under.

Peacock says eight years ago, Christmas Day for the Barmy Army would have been a small group of supporters sitting on a beach holding a Union Jack. In 2006, things are a lot grander.

"For Christmas Day we've organised a barbecue for about 2,500 people. That's going to be on the banks of the Yarra," says Barmy Army official Nicky Bowes.

"This is the first time we've really gone to that kind of level. Four years ago there were parties arranged but they were impromptu," she said.

The Sydney New Year's Eve event, to be held at the beach-side suburb of Coogee, will be a charity fundraiser and is expected to attract some 4,000 people.

While sing-a-longs fuelled by long hours in the sun and plenty of alcohol are part of the Barmy Army package, the movement generates thousands of dollars for charities through its events.

For instance, it raised some 34,000 pounds (66,745 US dollars) for leukaemia research during the last tour.

"There was always a slight concern when we started that we might get infiltrated by the football hooligans. But I think we've got a good reputation. People back home love us," says Peacock.

Australian cricket fans are also fond of their rivals.

Warren Livingstone, the founder of the Australian fan group The Fanatics, which follows teams and players to venues around the world, believes the Barmy Army is good for cricket.

"I think any kind of noise at events generates atmosphere and that's why people go," he told AFP from the sidelines of a cricket match in Melbourne between The Fanatics and the Barmy Army.

"We don't see them as competition. And I don't think they see it as a competition either. We just go about it in a different fashion."


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