Where are the counter-taunters?

Around 5pm on the third day of the Boxing Day test, as the Poms slumped towards their latest humiliation, a grinning man in a huge red-and-white hat got to his feet, waving an English flag. The Barmy Army, a few hundred strong, had been pretty quiet all day but were about to find their voices. The flag-waver led them in a series of calls and responses, starting with the most familiar ‘Everywhere we go …’ They chanted uninterrupted for the next hour or so, as English batsmen entered and exited like messengers in a Shakespeare play, after which Rogers and Warner batted with supreme ease. The worse England fared, the more the Barmies sang.

They have two types of chants. One is a celebration of their own virtues (“The mighty mighty England … the barmy barmy army”). The other is the taunt. Sometimes these are aimed at the players – not long ago Mitchell Johnson famously got taunted with “He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, that Mitchell Johnson, his bowling is shite” but can there ever have been a more satisfying response than what he has served up this series?

The other type of taunt is aimed at the opposition supporters, and this is what I want to focus on.

Years ago I read an article by the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski about the customs of the Trobriand Islanders. He wrote that when rival teams of fishermen go out in their canoes, one crew taunts the others with words to the effect of “Our canoe is great, we are the best fishermen,” and the other crew replies with “No, your canoe is shite, we paddle faster and we catch more fish than you, losers!” I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist of it.

The point is that taunting is supposed to be a dialogue. Taunt should be met with counter-taunt. At present, no one is counter-taunting the Barmies. Occasionally at the ‘G someone tried to start a chorus of “Aussie, Aussie Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi,” but the effort was feeble. Let’s face it, it is a rubbish chant, nothing but crass nationalism, devoid of wit.

The Barmies’ chanting has its origins in English football crowds. A year ago I went to a match between two lowly English teams, Plymouth Argyle and Torquay United. The rival supporters spent the whole match in taunt and counter-taunt. Since it was a local derby, most of it revolved around disputing which was “the best team in Devon”. This is a bit like arguing about who is the best ice hockey team in Darwin, but they took it very seriously. If either side paused in its taunting, the other lot taunted them with “We forgot you were here.”

At the MCG, the Barmies didn’t hesitate to taunt the Aussies for not taunting them back. “And you still don’t sing, three-nil,” they chanted at one point. “We’ll sing a song for you.” The home supporters looked at each other in mystification: what madness was this? Why are the Barmies singing the score, when their team is being thrashed?

Later, as Warner and Rogers hammered the final nails into the English coffin, the Barmies taunted the home supporters with the chant “Where were you when you were shite?” When Australia is losing, its fans disappear: at the MCG in 2010, when Australia was all out 98 and England reached 0-150, there were hardly any home supporters left by the final session. But look at us, the Barmies chanted, our team is absolutely shite now, completely and unutterably abysmal, yet we are still here!

The attitude seems to be: the worse the team, the more dedicated a supporter you are; the better the supporter, the more you sing. By this logic, the team’s failures are to be celebrated. I remember back in the ’90s hearing an earlier incarnation of the Barmy Army burst into the proud chorus: “We’ve got the worst team in the world.” As an example of turning a negative into a positive it would gladden the heart of a cognitive behavioural therapist, but this kind of thinking is alien to Australian supporters.

There’s an opportunity here for Cricket Australia. In response to the crisis affecting the cricket team, they commissioned the Argus Report. Now that the cricket side has been fixed up, it’s time to look at the taunting. Australian fans should refuse to accept that we cannot do better than “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.” A panel of expert taunt writers should be assembled, chaired by Paul Keating; teams of taunt-gatherers, like census takers, should go among the people, gathering material. When the Barmy Army turns on the home crowd with taunts about non-singing, they should be met with a rousing chorus: something like, perhaps, “Even Boycott thinks you’re boring” (to the tune of ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah’) or “He’s big, he’s tall, he never hits the ball, Stuart Broad, Stuart Broad”. These are just preliminary thoughts, but you get the idea.

The Ashes have been won back, but we will really know Australia is in the ascendant when it comes up with some counter-taunts to wipe the smile off Barmy faces.

About Nick Gadd

Melbourne writer of novels and non-fiction

Comments

  1. Very clever Nicko. You are on the money about the lack of a wit culture in Australian barracking today. What happened to our Yabba heritage?
    How about the Tony Abbott monarchist chant:
    “OBE from our Queen; Worst pommy team she’s ever seen.”
    Or:
    “God save the pommy team
    Worst team he’s ever seen
    Swanny’s another has-been
    Four nil victorious
    Sydney one more for us
    Mitch will take five for us
    English bad dream”

  2. Welcome aboard the good ship Almanac, Nicko. You’re bound to get a few witty suggestions. Meanwhile, next time I’m watching the cricket I’ll be thinking of the Trobrian Islanders First X1.

  3. cowshedend says:

    Great stuff Nicko, the oi oi oi thing urgghhh, but find the ‘army’ very tedious as well,repetive with a better repertoire.
    Many moons ago remember the MCG crowd bagging the tedious Chris Tavare to the tune of ‘That’s Amore’
    ‘When you are 3 and it’s just about tea..that’s Tavaaare”
    And the “where we come from” bit is quite a legitimate question to ask of an English side..Zimbabwe.Sth.Africa..New Zealand….Australia..Wales…Scotland.
    If Kevin Pieterson puts as much value on his passport as he does his wicket

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Spot on , Nicko and there is plenty of wit and creative song writers out there eg
    Swish Schwerdt at , Ad Uni FC any 1 who writes a song for our presentations each sat night of footy season receives two jugs of beer which encourages , Uni students as swish knows each sat night pres are like a mini vaudeville show . This sort of thing needs to be encouraged with people handing out song sheets at the gate taking the piss out of the all nations side eg , Ben Stokes and sheep we all sing as he walks out to bat
    The bit about , Aussie supporters leaving when opposition is on top etc is today’s society in general as soon as a team is consistently losing people drop off v quickly and jump back on when winning there is no wear near as much loyalty in general as there was , 20 yrs ago

  5. Good get with the Trobriand Islanders but you may also know they are famous for their cricket matches – the early doco about their cricket is famous in sports sociology and history circles.

    Check this trailer out. Not sure where to find the original.

  6. Well done Nicko, the ‘Aussie, Oi’, etc chant is a national embarrasment. I cringe when i hear it. What also made me cringe, for similar but different reasons, during the 2010-11 Ashes series, was when the Barmy Army chanted ‘God Save Your Queen’. Now it’s 2014, and we stil have a foreign monarch as our head of state. Not good enough, as we still suffer aspects of a cultural cringe. Let’s follow some of our artitsic legends like Lawson, Gunnipingu, Kelly, in delivering some innovative works, showing our development as a nation. Only then can we banish the imagery exemplified by the two chants i’ve mentioned. Over to you, spectators.

    Glen!.

    Glen!

  7. To the tune of ‘Robin Hood’:

    “Stuart Broad, Stuart Broad,
    Hasn’t got a friend,
    Stuart Broad, Stuart Broad,
    Plumb LB again,
    Only uses pad,
    Lost his willow sword,
    Stuart Broad, Stuart Broad”

    To the tune of ‘Daisy (Bicycle built for two)’:

    “KP, KP,
    England are in the poo,
    You’re half crazy,
    Must be at least 6 of you,
    You might be a stylish batter,
    But your runs never seem to matter,
    With cross batted slogs,
    England’s gone to the dogs,
    We’re seeing the end of you.”

  8. cowshedend says:

    Clever Peter,
    Surely something can be made from our own ‘Little Heroes’ ‘One Perfect Day’
    with the line ‘And Tell me,is it still raining there in England?’ it’s a song that could keep on giving

  9. Let them have their naff little songs if it pleases them. Small minds……………..

    I find it bemusing (the first “bemused” of 2014?) that the Barmy is considered funny and oh so English, but an equivalent Aus army would be considered vulgar and rude. At the tennis over summer (I’ve been a few times to the Aus Open and Aami Classic) the Fanatics get up and do their chants and sing along (not my cup of tea but its fairly inoffensive), but the reaction from the home audience is usually mixed. Its certainly not universal love all round. We don’t seem to care for the home grown stuff.

    Perhaps its just not in our culture.

  10. I’m with you Dips. The Fanatics give me the brace & bits – utterly cringeworthy and I can’t wait for when there’s no Australians left in the draw so they slide back into irrelevance (and silence).

    Loved the piece Nicko, but if these blokes want to shell out a couple of thousand pounds to fly to Australia and sit in the sun and sing, they’re welcome to. I find the Barmy Army about as entertaining as a prostate check sans lube.

    If we HAD to come up with a Barmy Army taunt, I’d go with the following (to the tune of the chorus of Daydream Believer)

    “Cheer up Barmy Army…
    Oh what can it mean
    To a
    Pack of whinging bastards and a
    Shit Cricket team”

  11. How about to a classic Australian tune that will get the punters singing?

    Hunnas

    We will come for you before lunchtime
    We will bounce you in your sleep
    We will catch you in ten places
    And you will tangle up your feet
    We will scare the life out of you
    You will make us laugh and make you cry
    And we will never forget it
    You will take a long walk in shame
    And we will never meet again (Trott and Swanny)
    So don your pads and let’s get started
    And you will throw your wickets away
    Yeah you will throw your wickets away

  12. Well written Nick! I was a whinging pom in all my 7 years I was in Australia. Whinging about how rubbish the atmosphere at a game. I once watched Australia v Barbarians at the SFS. I might as well have watched it on the TV with the sound off in a morgue.
    On the way to the third Lions test our carriage on the train sang all the way there. Just before we arrived someone turned to the three Aussies in our carriage and said, “your turn”. After a minute of silence while bewilderment of not being prepared for singing taunting crossed their faces one of them started a feeble “you’re going to lose”. Pathetic.
    Robbie Williams sang Sing When you’re Winning. The true Brit culture is sing all the time. Who gives a stuff whether we’re winning or losing. It’s a game and it’s FUN!!

  13. Lots of brilliant suggestions there! Thanks John for the Trobriand Islanders doco, great stuff.

  14. I’m in the Steve Baker / Dips camp.

    To me the Barmy Army come across as sad, deluded alcoholic 45+’ings trying to escape that they still live with their mothers.

    Am I being harsh?

  15. JD yes you are! Many are happily married and many come as couples on the tours.

    Nick – soon after reading this I was unpacking our stuff and came across this Barmy Classic:

    You can sing sod all
    (To the tune of Wonderwall)

    Today is gonna be the day that we’re gonna sing a song for you.
    By now you should’ve somehow realized that’s what we’re here to do.
    And I don’t believe that anybody sings as bad as you.

    AUSSIE CONVICTS
    Backbeat, the word is on the street that you can’t even write a song
    I’m sure, you’ve heard it all before, but c’mon Aussies prove us wrong
    ‘Cos I don’t believe that anybody’s quite as thick as you

    AUSSIE CONVICTS
    The “oh aah” song you sang for Glenn is so sad
    And “Warney Warney Warney” was just as bad
    There are many songs that I would like to hear from you
    But you don’t know how, (don’t know how)
    ‘Cos maybe, (maybe) you’ll never find a song to play me, (play me)
    Cos after all, YOU CAN SING SOD ALL.

  16. Fair enuff, apologies to the Barmies I’ve unfairly flamed Chris.

    My only other comment is that we don’t / can’t sing coz we just don’t care to. So feel free to taunt us about our inability to taunt, I care even less!

    Have better things to do like going to the beach, winning Ashes, etc etc…

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