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.
A boy who had to leave a “big sporty” independent school because of ADHD, was so good at rugby that he helped his team to win a match by scoring a try on his last day, according to an account written anonymously by his mother in last Friday’s Daily Telegraph (1).
Although I currently see teenagers only from eighteen years of age, a couple of years ago I saw some children in their mid-teens at independent schools, because of my association with Professor Peter Hill. Many of my adult patients have had non-state education.
It is clear that some schools in the private sector are more accepting of ADD / ADHD and other developmental problems than others. It seems surprising, though, that the school in the Telegraph article, which in 2008 apparently claimed to welcome children with special educational needs, was not more helpful in guiding the parents towards proper diagnosis and treatment at an earlier stage.
The story had a happy ending, with a good response to ADHD medication, and “…a course of therapy with a psychologist from our local authority’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.” Enabling the boy’s settling in to another independent school.
The original school may well have changed its attitudes and procedures by now. But other parents in a similar situation may want to consider whether obtaining early external assessment and perhaps intervention can save the relationship with a school. It might have been the fear of the anonymous parents in the Telegraph article that the school would be antagonised, but that rarely seems to happen in practice.
Writing in The Huffington Post, an American novelist has stated that football* will never catch on in the United States, because it is too boring to watch (1). “American sports fans…crave the excitement presented by the chance of a score on every play.”
One of his European readers responds by suggesting that high rates of ADD / ADHD might account for this drive towards instant gratification. But is it true, anyway, that people in the United States generally lack restraint, live more “in the moment”, thoughtlessly follow their impulses and desires?
If so, the US would, for example, have higher rates of alcohol and substance misuse compared with other cultures. Recent large-scale studies do not confirm this (2). The best physical indicator of alcoholism, cirrhosis of the liver, is still much more common in supposedly non-impulsive France (3). Moreover, despite a steady fall in the real price of alcohol, and relentless promotion (not least within sporting events) both overall alcohol use and misuse have declined in the US over recent decades (4).
The sport of the aspiring American businessman is golf, and US television ratings for major tournaments indicate an abundance of patience to follow such events over four days, far in excess of a ninety minute football game.
This Sunday the world cup climaxes. If the USA team had gone even further than the last sixteen (drawing against England), if they were playing against the current European champions, Spain, in the final, would football have become more of a credible spectator sport for Americans? I think so.
* This blog is primarily for UK readers, so “football” means “association football”. Note added 10th October 2011
(2) McBride et al (2009): Further evidence of differences in substance use and dependence between Australia and the United States. Drug and Alcohol Dependence
(3) World Health Organisation (2004 figures – published 2009)
(4) Zhang et al (2008): Secular Trends in Alcohol Consumption over 50 Years: The Framingham Study. The American Journal of Medicine. This study found that “heavy” use had declined, but not alcohol dependence.