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The Ten: Superfans – From Barmy Army to the painted Sachin

Will Macpherson by Will Macpherson
@willis_macp 7 minute read

From leprechauns and trumpeters to dreadlocked cross-dressing dancers, cricket’s always encouraged a various classes of superfans. Travelling World Cup pilgrim Will Macpherson celebrates the greats, grandees and downright loonies.

First published in 2015

10. The painted Sachin

In the lead-up to India’s World Cup semi-final with Australia, one of the tournament’s most recognisable faces was Sudhir Kumar Chaudhry. This particular superfan was to be found on Driver Avenue outside the SCG, with a selection of his adoring fans (being a fan of a fan… world’s gone mad) queuing up for a selfie or a chat. He’s been at every India home game since 2003, many overseas, and he’s a funny-looking cat. His whole torso, arms and face are painted in orange, white and green and, lately, he’s had a replica World Cup atop his noggin. Appropriately, he’s a nutter, too. He’s a regular down at the gaff of idol ‘Sir Sachin’ and he’s in adverts and the papers all the time. Without income or family, his travel is paid for through sponsorship and yet he makes no money. For this guy, watching cricket is no vacation, it’s a vocation.

9. Major coup

There’s much to like about the Barmy Army. They spend millions travelling the world to watch a cricket team who, despite a brief golden spell, have been pretty shoddy throughout the time they’ve been followed by the Army, the mighty, mighty Army. They’ve provided a spirited soundtrack to England’s overseas Test exploits for two decades, carrying themselves with a healthy dose of gallows humour, and, on the whole, they really know their cricket. Ol’ Vic Flowers is often the face of the operation, but he ain’t the heart, or the lungs. That’s Billy The Trumpet. The Army are known for their witty, cutting lyrics – many are the work of jobbing scribe Paul Winslow – but not the quality of their “singing”. The standard of classically-trained Billy’s backing track is, however, not in question.

8. Four million try to catch a million

This was the summer that cricket went viral in New Zealand. Not online, in people. They all got the bug. At every World Cup game, folk donned lurid orange t-shirts in the hope of taking a one-handed crowd catch – Brendon McCullum was intent on giving them as many opportunities as possible – to win a share of one million bucks. Seven blokes managed it, and as the Black Caps reached the final, they shared $750,000. But even beyond the packed stadiums, New Zealand’s fans were World Cup crazy. So much so that when McCullum’s mob made it to the MCG, they were joined by Kiwi-in-exile Peter Thompson, who caught the headlines for travelling 21,000 miles (and 50 hours) from London and spending $10,000 on his 17-and-a-half hours on the ground in Melbourne.

7. Larry the Leprechaun

Larry is a relative newcomer to the famous fan scene and was one of the highlights of the World Cup. Clad in classic leprechaun attire he was a vocal presence in the stands – often alongside his young son Hamish (“Little Larry”) – as Ireland fought passionately not just for wins, but for World Cup status. He barracked the ICC on Twitter, gave interviews and sang and danced his way through Ireland’s joyous – and eventually tearful – campaign. Larry is Adrian Raftery who, rather wonderfully, is a university lecturer in taxation, born and bred in Melbourne – his parents had moved in the 1970s – but always very aware of his Irish heritage. Eventually, an old schoolmate in Australia, Jeremy Bray, wound up playing for Ireland and Raftery decided to head to the West Indies for the 2007 World Cup, beginning a joyous journey to semi-stardom.

Sometimes, stereotypes are accurate

6. Oli Broom

Perhaps inspired by Britain emerging as the cycling capital of the world, Broom took to his saddle at Lord’s with little more than a bag and trusty cricket bat. His destination? The Gabba! His journey spanned 14 months, 23 countries (he played cricket in all but three) and 15,500 miles. It was all worth it, though, as – having made it on time – Oli saw England crush the Aussies 3-1 in their own backyard (anyone remember what that felt like?). Oh, and he was also supported at least some of the way by 17 friends, who accompanied him to Dover – where they quickly turned around and headed back to HQ realizing the whole idea was a bit ridiculous.

On your bike!

5. Oh Percy

In July 2016, Percy Abeysekera will graduate to octogenarian status and celebrate 65 years of following cricket – particularly his native Sri Lanka – across the globe. Unlike many of the others on this list, Percy doesn’t look like an oddball. In fact, he looks more like a retiring, holidaying accountant, with his sensible specs, ‘tache and blue Sri Lanka cap covering thinning grey hair. That doesn’t mean he’s not mad about cricket, though. After nearly 35 years waving a Sri Lanka flag, as well as 30 years’ service before that (he watched Bradman live, ya know) – he’s been around far longer than his team have had Test status – Percy is one of the most recognisable in-stadium characters not out on the field.

4. Chacha Cricket

Ah, Chacha Cricket, you glorious thing, you. You don’t need All Out Cricket to tell you that Pakistani cricket is mad as a box of frogs, and in Chacha – real name Chaudhry Abdul Jalil – it had a suitably crazed mascot. Chacha Cricket translates from Urdu as Uncle Cricket and he became a familiar sight at Pakistan games around the globe, decked out in green from head to toe, a massive white beard, crescent moon on the hat and Pakistan flag in hand. Watching Pakistan live is a special, invariably arse-nipping experience and Chacha, as rabble rouser-in-chief, certainly did his thing until a glorious retirement earlier this year.

Chacha Cricket (centre) and Sudhir Gautam pictured during a super-fan event ahead of the 2019 WC fixture between India and Pakistan in Manchester

3. #Travellingroo

The rookie of the Super Fan scene, the distinctive Kangaroo-costume-wearing supporter was a mystery when he first started rocking up at World Cup games. But it soon turned out Skippy was actually Carl Teusner, a modern-day cricket nut who has attended 10 games – including the World Cup final – spanning Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane, Auckland and Nelson. As if to mark him out as a next-gen star, his name even bears a hashtag. Silicon Valley would be proud.

2. The one-man supporters club

It’s fair to say Philip Paine likes his cricket. His first match was Kent v Northants in 1974. After that he moved to London, just in time for the ’75 World Cup. From there he saw a bunch of records fall in a run laden domestic one-dayer at the Oval, and was smitten. “I was hooked after that. I saw a day of the England v Australia Test at the Oval in 1977 and I branched out into county cricket in 1979. That is where my love still is.” By 1998 he’d done all the county grounds, and has gone on the last eight Ashes tours, as well South Africa, Sri Lanka, the West Indies and Argentina “many times”. In all he’s seen cricket at 94 different grounds and written a series of books called Innings Complete. They’re all about cricket.

1. Gravy and Mayfield

Antigua’s Recreation Ground was known for its fans who were marshalled by the impressively nutty double act of DJ Chickie and Labon Kenneth Blackburn Leeweltine Buckonon Benjamin (‘Gravy’ to you and me). They dressed up, got down and generally got cricket’s finest party rocking. Describing their oeuvre is challenging; Gravy was a middle-aged, big-bearded, cross-dressing (platform shoes, shawl and tutu) gymnast and dancer. Chickie’s Disco – which pioneered music between balls and was always in tune with the state of the game – provided the soundtrack for Gravy’s moves, as the funkily-dressed-one writhed and wriggled his way around the fabled double-decker stand, swinging from the rafters and entertaining rapturous fans below.

First published in 2015

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