England have today won the Ashes in Australia for the first time since 1986. The media have contrasted the travelling England supporters’ cheerful optimism through the last two dozen years, with the fair-weather Australians, who deserted the stands as this Tour played out.
Like the “Tartan Army” who support the Scotland football team, many of England’s cricket supporters abroad are said to drink heavily and yet stay good-humoured. This “Barmy Army” has attracted the attention of academic sociologists, who suggest that they have created “a new form of English national identity” (1).
“Barmy” of course means “mad” or “insane”. As far as I know, no charity or professional group has censured the “Barmy Army” for the name they have chosen for themselves. To do so would itself be seen as crazed political correctness, which shows the importance of context for language like this (2).
English, (mostly) male sports fans who have been drinking: the more usual image is of football supporters facing off against baton-wielding European riot police (3). Both the Barmy and Tartan Armies show that it is not alcohol itself that inevitably leads to public disorder (4): for that to happen there has to be an advance expectation of hostility and violence. Perhaps the message in the “Barmy” name is that expectations can be changed.
So if toasting England’s Ashes victory tonight, pay attention to context and expectations; before downing those units of fizzy chardonnay, Aussie or otherwise.
(1) Parry M, Malcolm D (2004) England’s Barmy Army: Commercialization, Masculinity and Nationalism. International Review for the Sociology of Sport. March 75-94. I have only read the abstract, at: http://irs.sagepub.com/content/39/1/75.abstract
(2) See ‘ “Nutters”, “Fruitcakes” and “Loonies” ‘, 30th April 2010: https://drnmblog.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/nutters-fruitcakes-and-loonies/
(3) Documented in Bill Buford (1990) Among the Thugs
(4) A recent article in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation seems rather confused. Despite the title – Governments confront drunken violence –implying a strong causative role for alcohol, the experts quoted appear to differ widely about social factors. Just one example: France is stated to have a growing problem, but the overall consumption of alcohol in France has continuously fallen in recent decades.