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Barmy Army out to serenade England to win

Make song not war. It is not the motto of most armies but then England's "Barmy Army" of cricket fans prefer music and drink to fighting.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2003 10:38 IST

Make song not war.

It is not the motto of most armies but then England's "Barmy Army" of cricket fans prefer music and drink to fighting.

Despite a political feud in Sri Lanka that has been threatening to curb tourist arrivals, this intrepid army have taken the island by storm, cheering on their team through three one-dayers and three test matches, the last of which opened in Colombo on Thursday.

"When you've got a name like Barmy Army that's not what gets into your head," the group's leadcer Paul Burnham told Reuters, referring to the power struggle between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

"I don't think it's been a factor at all," said the 39-year-old Burnham at a local charity match as he enjoyed a beer to ease the searing heat.

Most teams come with a legion of devoted fans but few boast an official organisation who arrange match tickets to dominate a section of the stands, advise on accommodation and lead the cheering.

"It was the name given to the fans who kept singing when England lost. 'Barmy' because we kept jumping up and down when we were losing," said Burnham, explaining the group's birth during England's tour of Australia in 1994-95.

In November, when the series began, British tourist arrivals rose 100 percent over the previous month, helping to fuel a record high despite the political feud that threatens a peace process striving to end 20 years of war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

HAPPILY CHEERING

Most of the Army, turning pink in the sun as they watched the match, said they had not given a thought to the political situation and were simply happy to be cheering their side.

"It's absolutely wonderful -- it's brought a lot of sparkle back into watching cricket," said John, from Hertfordshire, who owns a removal company and is a long-time fan.

Even opposing teams do not seem to mind the presence of the army in their midst.

"Most of the teams we're playing against like it as well -- they seem to get a buzz out of it," said 34-year-old Ian, who said he was a recent convert to the sport.

Indeed, the only sign of discord seems to be a minor mutiny in the ranks, with a breakaway group that has dubbed itself the "Wavy Navy" aiming to out-sing the Barmy Army.

But even that is unlikely to rile the good-natured fans, hoping for a victory after the first two tests both ended in a draw.

"Hopefully in Colombo everyone will get together, we'll make lots of noise and the Wavy Navy and the Barmy Army will combine forces and sing together," said Burnham, unfazed by the other group's red singlets emblazoned with the question: "Why join the army when you can join the navy?"

First Published: Dec 19, 2003 10:38 IST