The origins of the Addis Army
About 11 years ago some words were uttered to me from some random bloke that started my personal journey with the Addis Army.
I still wonder how I ended up sitting on a suspect Ethiopian Airlines plane en route to Durban via Addis Ababa. My neighbour was a dodgy looking character, clutching what looked like a warm 99p bottle of Liebfraulmilch. “Fancy some wine mate”, he said, “I picked this up from a garage in Nottingham on the way to the airport.”
It turned out to be an aircraft full of craziness, bringing together a load of cricket fans that thought that they had found a real bargain of a flight by taking an unconventional route. The hapless Ethiopian airhostesses didn’t stand a chance. By the time we dropped down into Rome – I have no idea why it made that stop on the way – every drop of alcohol had been ruthlessly hunted down and consumed.
Things turned even more bizarre as we arrived in Addis. Apparently we were to be put up in the Hilton, but not before everybody as relieved of their passports. “When you come back tomorrow, we give you back your documents”, they said, as if they believed that there was some prospect at this feral mob hanging around in the country and outstaying their welcome.
During the course of the journey, I began to encounter the group of people with whom I would be spending the next couple of weeks. I hadn’t in fact travelled alone, as my business partner and friend Oliver Colvile, the brother of Charles Colvile, the Sky cricket pundit accompanied me.
The cast began to identify itself. The bloke with the wine who would be shortly christened ‘SP’ was there with his Derby supporting mate who soon became the appointed organiser and ‘Skipper’ of the party. Also present was a young bloke in a Wycombe Wanderers shirt, two Mancs who did not agree on football and a couple of guys who played for the same cricket club in Windsor.
There was also a small group of very inebriated guys from Lancashire who strolled into the airport arrivals in Addis sporting some very smart green peaked hats, which on closer inspection were clearly official Ethiopian Airlines issue. “They fell out of the overhead lockers”, they unconvincingly claimed.
Not content with the life-threatening amount of alcohol that had gone down during the flight, things carried on with some gusto at The Hilton. Soon after arrival, one of the legendary events of AA history took place as SP met a single Ethiopian woman by the Hilton pool, whose name turned out to be Selina (apparently).
SP was most taken by this woman, whom everybody else realised immediately was a prostitute. ‘What do you do for living?”, asked SP. “I’m an accountant”, came the reply. SP would not have it that she was sexworker, until the point where he decided that maybe he would try and change some money into US Dollars as he was in need of some accountancy advice.
Hence Selina’s Pimp or SP for short became the nickname allocated by the Skipper to his friend and the inspiration for the first ever Addis Army song (to the tune of ‘Yellow Submarine”):
In the town of Ababa,
Lived the lovely Selina,
When I asked her what she did,
She said, “I’ll do you…. for forty quid”
We’ve all been to Addis Ababa,
Addis Ababa, Addis Ababa
We’ve all been to Addis Ababa,
Addis Ababa, Addis Ababa.
This was sung once or twice during the course of the tour, although I can’t say it went down too well with the Barmy Army, who at that time seemed to think that if it wasn’t an officially sanctioned song by them, then it should not be allowed. This also applied to another favourite song of the AA, which you will hear on just about every international cricket tour when we are around, an adaptation of the 1960’s tune from the children’s TV programme, ‘Chigley’:
Time flies by when I'm the driver of a train
Watching the England win away again
Under bridges over bridges to our destination
Puffing through the countryside there's so much to be seen.
Like most things with the AA, I have absolutely no idea why this tune was adopted.
Back at Addis Ababa airport the morning after it was chaos, as the local immigration officials were struggling to hand back the passports. As befits his mindset, the Skipper was intent on bringing some order to all of this and grabbed the lot, stood on a chair and started barking out names. It was like that roll-call scene in the classic film ‘Zulu’.
One of the important priorities of the AA is always to try and play cricket in random places and also have a bit of slip catching practice. We played in Addis Ababa airport and carried on in Johannesburg airport. The young Wycombe fan (now officially named by the Skipper as ‘Wycombe’ or ‘Wicks’, who was gaining a reputation for being one of the clumsiest and most dangerous members of the AA), decided to bat in Jo’burg. The result was full-bloodied hook into a large piece of glazing in the departures lounge, which to this day I cannot believe remained intact. Security arrived and a large gentleman declared, “This is an illegal cricket match, disperse”.
Durban was the first stop and everybody now had their AA name. I was ‘Herbie’ after the West Ham mascot, being a big fan of that team. Oliver was ‘Mr C’. The guys from Windsor were ‘Freddie’ (the Skipper thinking that there was some similarity here with Flintoff that I have never seen myself) and ‘Son of Freddie’, while the Mancs were ‘Midnight’ (due to his habit of only recovering from the previous day’s hangover at around midnight and generally then crooning some song from the 1970’s) and ‘Gilo’ (the Skipper again seeing some similarity with Ashley Giles that I have never really appreciated). The final component was two friends from the Luton area who ended up being called ‘Harry’ and ‘Jim’ after Rednapp and Smith, Jim being a bald headed spitting image of the football manager.
SP and the Skipper meanwhile were staying in some rancid hostel where SP ended up sleeping on a pool table. Skipper was happy enough though as he managed to pull one of the workers there who was named ‘Sybil’ in some strange reference to Fawlty Towers. Sybil liked the whole setup so much she travelled on eventually with us to Cape Town.
Then the match started at The Kingsmead Stadium, which soon turned into a marathon drinking session. In 2004, the England fans formed a hardcore contingent of about 400, which made it all feel quite close-knit. Wycombe was to be avoided at all costs as he managed to push Gilo over a seat leading to the northerner being virtually incapacitated.
The Skipper had emptied the Mexican-themed restaurant of his hostel of all its paraphernalia and turned up with big hats and ponchos. These turned out to be useful given the blistering heat and lack of cover, but the Skipper then decided to paint droopy moustaches on everybody that would agree, which ended up at about several hundred. It was surreal.
There was also a near international incident as a vendor was relieved of all of his bush meat products or biltong whilst leaving it unattended. This led to a standoff as the enraged guy asked the Skipper threateningly if he “had heard of the Zulu Nation”. The whole terrace was watching with much amusement and this led to a crowd-sourced whip round with coins raining down from everywhere giving the now happy vendor a bumper profit.
Meanwhile, Son of and SP had met some very nice South African girls in rather revealing bikinis. All was going well until they announced that they had to leave early to go to school to pick up their exam results.
At night, the action continued and one of the favourite drinking spots was a bar called Joe Cool’s down on the seafront. Freddie got so drunk he decided that an ice bucket was an acceptable form of headwear and there was also a sudden invasion of about 30 women, all of whom turning out to be intent on ‘business’.
That same night on the way back, Mr. C shut his hand in a taxi door, which led to him exclaiming “I appear to have got my hand caught in the door mechanism”. This provoked much hilarity as other AA members said that they would have been using rather more colourful Anglo Saxon language.
The cricket was not going well. England were all out in the first innings for 139 and then the AA’s least favourite Saffer, ‘Boring Boring Kallis’ came in and hit 162 to give a first innings lead of 193. It seemed hopeless and I was enraged by the ever-optimistic Wycombe’s belief that England would score 500 in the second innings. “I will streak across the pitch if we get 500”, I said.
Cue the Wicks score update every other over as Trescothick and Strauss put on 273 for the first wicket. As 500 approached I had to retreat to the grass bank but it was useless trying to hide as the whole England support knew about my rash statement and Billy the Trumpeter played ‘The Stripper’ as England cruised past 500.
Naturally, I reneged on my pledge to streak, as I didn’t fancy a night in a South African jail. Needless to say the AA has never forgotten this, and I am reminded of it every tour.
Further additions to the AA were also made on the terrace of Durban, namely the then Sheffield based couple who the Skipper named ‘The Blades’ due to their curious support for Sheffield United, when Wednesday are clearly the better team. Mr. Blade has achieved legendary status in the AA, as from the very first day we met him in Durban to the present day, he has never seen England win on tour. I think at the last count he has attended 15 international matches and I reckon he has spent north of £70,000 trying to find that elusive victory. He has also committed the cardinal sin in my eyes of emigrating to H M Penal Colony, a place I will never return to after the last Ashes Tour there.
The Test ended in some excitement on the last day as it looked like we would get the first AA win. Unfortunately, as can happen in Durban, the light went just when England were two wickets short of victory.
On to Cape Town, where Freddie and his Son went off to stay at some salubrious place called the Train Lodge. This turned out to be an actual converted train carriage with a bed that Freddie could not fit in. Toys were thrown out of pram (or should that be train?) and an alternative hotel was found.
I have to say that Cape Town remains one of my favourite places to visit and the AA was soon at home there. SP decided to strip naked in restaurant after asking the owner if it was OK. The proprietor seemed happy with that. Meanwhile, love was in the air for Wycombe who arranged a romantic picnic on the beach with a local girl who stood him up. Wicks made the fatal mistake of revealing this, when the natural thing to do would have been to say you’d had a great time and shagged all afternoon.
Wicks was not that bothered though and sought solace in drink, which nearly led to him self- amputating an arm with an overhead fan as he leapt onto a chair in a restaurant.
We also met two young women from East Anglia who turned out to be sisters and whom the Skipper naturally named ‘the Tractor Girls’ or ‘Tractor 1’ and ‘Tractor 2’. They completed what I consider to be the original AA. Many have been added in since, usually someone Midnight has bumped into and recruited to the cause, however, the founders were those in South Africa in 2004.
It wasn’t all cricket as there was a bit of standard tourism. I got talked into going up Table Mountain in a terrifying cable car. There was no way I was going back down in that thing and walked four hours back down the mountain.
Mr. C also dragged me off for sunset gin and tonics with some contacts of his who owned the most amazing villa with an infinity pool overlooking Camps Bay. He was not too pleased though by the amount of offers from prostitutes that he seemed to be receiving on a daily basis after leaving his well-appointed B&B at Sea Point.
For me, the atmosphere at Newlands Cricket Ground, as beautiful as it is, was not as good as in Durban. Cape Town attracts far more English supporters and it did not have the same intimacy.
The cricket wasn’t great – we got smashed, with AA nemesis Kallis hitting 149 to put the match beyond our reach after we then got bowled out cheaply for 163. It was an inevitable defeat.
The loss didn’t erode the marvelous time we all had and what’s more we had the great prospect of returning back via Addis Ababa. We were all looking forward to the Hilton and SP was positively frothing at the mouth at a reunion with the lovely Selina. No chance, we got taken from the airport to some awful tower block of a hotel where there was no water above the 5th floor.
We consoled ourselves by drinking the hotel dry and at minimal cost since the waiters were composing the bill by trying to count empty bottles, most of which being concealed under a sofa. There was little sleep though as the hotel was next to what was probably the biggest Mosque in Addis, and Morning Prayer was called at dawn.
When you go on holiday you often meet great people who you say you will meet again but never do. With the AA the friendship was cemented and extended by further tours and we’ve got a few miles left in us yet. The third cycle of tours to South Africa will soon be upon us – we actually won in Durban second time around - and I will reminisce no doubt again about that very first tour.
A few things have happened since that unforgettable tour 11 years ago. We have been to India, West Indies, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Australia, Sri Lanka and the Middle East. The Blades got married and had a fine son. Tractor 1 also got married to a new member of the AA we met on tour in India. Mr. C has been elevated to the House of Commons. Wicks has become one of the country’s leading football journalists. Midnight has retired and spends all of his free time travelling the world watching cricket with Freddie helping him market his books on his experiences. The rest of us, well, we just love cricket and everything that goes with it. Long live the AA!