Category: rugby

Fleet Street’s sporting administrators and a Sporting Landmark destroyed in the blitz

By , 7th December 2017 21:18

Many people bemoan what they see as the excessive influence television wields over sport, especially football.

The intimate relationship between journalists, newspapers and sports administrators is nothing new.

While researching the life and times of John Graham Chambers, it has become clear just how important Fleet Street was to the early codification and adminisitration of many of today’s leading sports between the 1860s and 1880s.

Not only did newspaper correspondence columns provide forums through which laws were debated, but several editors and journalists played very prominent roles in the development of  specific sports.

Some of the sporting connections of Fleet Street’s finest are indicated on this map:

One example was the Sportsman newspaper. Charles Alcock, F.A. secretary for 25 years from 1871, (and also secretary of Surrey County Crickey Club from 1872) wrote for the paper. The Sportsman’s offices, in Boy Court, Ludgate Hill, were the venue for the meeting on 20 July 1871 at which the F.A. Cup was first proposed.   (The establishment of the Cup was formally approved at a subsequent meeting on 16 October 1871.)

Several “Courts” – narrow alleyways – still exist along Fleet Street, but there is no trace of Boy Court today.  As someone who regularly visits the Fleet Street area on business, I explored the Ludgate Hill area on a number of occasions trying to find clues as to its whereabouts.  Boy Court was evidently so small that even the nine-inch map in George W. Bacon’s New Large Scale Ordnance Atlas of London & Suburbs of 1888 didn’t locate the site. Online searching eventually threw up one small clue from the 1779 Horwood Map.

The Joy of the Single, a BBC4 programme broadcast in April 2017 inadvertently provided a clue as to the disappearance of Boy Court from the face of the earth.

The Sportsman newspaper was based at Boy Court, Ludgate Hil

Boy Court would have been tucked away behind the missing buildings that used to front on to Ludgate Hill on the left looking up towards St Paul’s.

Bombsight, the website that has mapped the World War 2 bomb census, reveals that the area was hit by two high explosive bombs between 7 October 1940 and 6 June 1941. So the sporting landmark where Alcock, “the father of English sport” worked, and where the F.A. Cup and international football were conceived, was obliterated in the blitz.

Para Sport in 1870 London

By , 17th July 2017 22:58

The London Stadium, perhaps still better known as the London 2012 Olympic Stadium, hosts the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships between 14 and 23 July.

The 2012 Paralympics highlighted the role of Ludwig Guttman and the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in pioneering the use of sport for the rehabilitation of spinal injuries sustained during the Second World War.

This advert appeared in Sporting Life on Wednesday 3 and Saturday 6 August 1870.

 

 

 

The advert provides evidence that disabled veterans from the armed forces were taking part in sport in public nearly 80 years before the wheelchair archery competition organised by Guttman at Stoke Mandeville on 29 July 1948 – the day of the opening ceremony of the 1948 London Olympics – that the IPC regard as having been an important milestone in the history of the Parlympic Movement.

The Greenwich Pensioners were veterans of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, equivalent to the Chelsea Pensioners of the British Army.

Sadly, although the Sporting Life carried adverts for the ‘Grand Gala Days and Cricket Extraordinary’ it didn’t report on the events after the event, and neither did any of the other London publications of the period.

Lillie Bridge was the home of the Amateur Athletic Club and was something of a Victorian multi-sport venue, hosting a variety of sports including athletics, boxing, cricket, cycling, pony racing and rugby.  Conveniently located next to West Brompton station, Lillie Bridge staged the second F.A. Cup final in 1873.

 

How the Welsh introduced national anthems to international sporting fixtures

By , 11th October 2015 22:31
Originally published on 3 February 2013. Updated 11 October 2015

The tradition of  singing national anthems before international sporting matches is believed to have originated at Cardiff Arms Park  on 16 December 1905.  The occasion was the first rugby match between Wales and New Zealand.

During that year’s home internationals, Wales had won the Triple Crown. (France didn’t play their first match in Britain until 1907 and didn’t officially become part of the Five Nations until 1910.)  By the time New Zealand’s inaugural northern hemisphere tour reached Cardiff for the test against Wales, they were undefeated after 27 matches, including victories against the other three home nations.  801 points had been scored, just 32 conceded.

With two undefeated sides coming face-to-face, the match was billed in the press as the “match of the century”.


The shirt worn by the All Blacks Captain in the 1905 Wales vs New Zealand match was put up for auction in October 2015.  It sold for £180,000 to set a new world record for a rugby shirt.


Their pre-match haka had added to the aura of All Black invincibility.  Having traveled to watch the visitors play at Gloucester, the Welsh Rugby Union decided to undertake their own experiment in psychological warfare at the Arms Park.  At the end of the haka, Teddy Morgan led the Welsh team in singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.  After a few seconds, the capacity crowd of 40,000 picked up the refrain.  The Lyttleton Times reported to its readers in New Zealand that “The effect was intensely thrilling, even awe-inspiring.”

For the record, Wales defeated the All Blacks by 3-0, although the result remains the subject of controversy to this day with allegations that a New Zealand try had not been awarded. The New Zealand Rugby Museum account of the tour can be found here.

Recognition of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau as the Welsh national anthem effectively dates from 1905.  Prior to the match in Cardiff, it had been a popular song, originally called Glan Rhondda, that had been written in 1856 by Evan James from Pontypridd and his son James.  So not only did the “match of the century” at Cardiff Arms Park start the tradition of singing anthems before international fixtures, it also effectively gave Wales its own anthem.

A history of The Welsh National Anthem by Sion Jobbins was published on the eve of the 2013 Six Nations prompting a strange debate on whether it should be sung by non-Welsh speakers on a number of BBC Radio stations on the first Saturday of the tournament.


George Hotel Huddersfield – Birthplace of the Rugby League

By , 25th October 2013 17:51

Saturday 26th October 2013 may mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Football Association at the Freemason’s Tavern in London, but it is also the opening day of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

The sport of rugby league was effectively born on 29 August 1895 when representatives of twenty-two clubs met at the George Hotel, Huddersfield and formed the Northern Rugby Football Union.  The clubs, mostly from Yorkshire and Lancashire, wanted to have the option of compensating players for taking time off work to play in Saturday matches.  “Broken time” payments were outlawed by the then Rugby Football Union.


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The Rugby League World Cup dates back to an inaugural tournament in France in 1954 – predating its Rugby Union counterpart by some 33 years.

Melrose – birthplace of rugby sevens

By , 11th April 2012 13:15

Staged annually in April, the Melrose 7s festival is a reminder that the next team sport to be added to the Olympic roster, in Rio in 2016, was invented in the Scottish borders.

Digging around in the Melrose Sevens website reveals that Melrose Football Club, followers of the Rugby rules of football, was desperately searching for fund-raising ideas in the early 1880s. Ned Haig, a Jedburgh-born Melrose member, suggested staging a one-day tournament to bring in the crowds.   To make the format workable, teams were to be reduced to seven players and matches limited to 15 minutes.

Held on 28 April 1883, the first tournament proved a great success. Special trains brought hundreds of spectators from Galashiels and Hawick.  The 129th Melrose Sevens will be staged on 14 April 2010.

The Scottish town’s status as birthplace of sevens is recognised by the the International Rugby Board.  The Melrose Cup is the trophy for the IRB Rugby World Cup Sevens, first staged up the road at Murrayfield in Edinburgh 1993.

Since sevens becomes an Olympic sport in 2016, the next RWC Sevens is expected to be the last – although the IRB website is remarkably coy about its future after the 2013 tournament which will be hosted in Moscow.

In 2009, Stewart Maxwell, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, called on the Scottish Rugby Union to demand that the IRB withdraw rugby sevens from the Olympic Games. Rather than celebrating the even higher profile that Melrose’s invention will now have worldwide, he fears Scotland looses an opportunity to appear – in its own right – on an international stage.  His campaign echoes the resistance of some in association football to the inclusion of a GB soccer team in the London 2012 Olympics when England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are each individual members of FIFA.

However, the IRB is promoting its Sevens World Series to develop sevens and provide many more opportunities for international teams to compete.  Sevens has also become a highly successful and fiercely competitive part of the Commonwealth Games – which Glasgow hosts in 2014.  The IRB rankings, reveal that Commonwealth nations are prominent among rugby’s leading nations in both the fifteens and sevens versions of the sport.

Given its role as the birthplace of sevens, it’s a shame that Melrose doesn’t even feature on the route of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.

PS: if Rugby takes its name from the town and school which championed a form of football which allowed running with the ball, why isn’t Rugby Sevens known as Melrose?

PPS: was it entirely coincidental that the IOC wll admit two sports with deep Scottish roots – rugby sevens and golf – to the Oympics in 2016.

Links: Wikipedia has entries on rugby sevens in 22 languages, including fittingly, Scots!

Will London 2012 give Britain’s sporting heritage its Moment to Shine?

By , 21st December 2011 13:27

The ‘towns on route’ have been announced and 6800 torch bearers have been unveiled. The complex planning process for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Torch Relays is entering its final stages. Over the next couple of months, the planning team must agree the street-level routes with local authorities across the country. But will the organisers miss the chance to create a legacy that would benefit the nations tourism industry beyond 2012?

The curtain-raiser to the Olympics since the infamous Berlin Games of 1936, the Olympic Torch Relay was transformed into a major sponsorship property by the Los Angeles Organising Committee in 1984. LA’s controversial ‘Youth Legacy Kilometer’ initiative also pioneered the idea of torch-bearers being nominated by the public: nominations were invited from individuals or companies who made a $3,000 donation to a special youth sport fund. Since LA, the fund-raising element has been dropped but the operational model, with incremental refinements, has been passed on in relay from one Games to the next.

LOCOG first outlined its vision for the Relay to “connect people to the Olympic Games, its heroes and its spirit,” in May 2010. “The Olympic Torch Relay will bring the 2012 Games to people’s doorsteps and showcase the best of the UK from dynamic urban areas to places of outstanding natural beauty and sporting and cultural landmarks.” To their credit, the LOCOG planning team appears to have bettered its initial target of the Relay route passing “within a one hour journey time” of 95% of the British population.

LOCOG’s initial Relay announcement bore an almost uncanny resemblance to the equivalent announcements from Vancouver, Beijing, Turin, Athens, Salt Lake and Sydney and even the Commonwealth Games Baton Relays of Delhi, Melbourne and Manchester. Strict observance of the established operational model appears to be stifling originality to the extent that sporting relays have become formulaic.

In their efforts to capture the public imagination and differentiate one Relay from the next, recent organisers have resorted to uplifting taglines. The invitation to “Light the Passion, Share the Dream“, was possibly misconstrued by the demonstrators that were attracted to various international legs of Beijing’s relay. London positions the Relay as “A moment to shine”.

Sadly, LOCOG appears to be in danger missing a trick. Britain’s unique sporting heritage gives LOCOG the opportunity to give the 2012 Relay a very distinctive feel and re-connect it, and the watching public, with the origins of many modern sports.

History is important to the International Olympic Committee. The Olympic Museum in Lausanne is currently the only permanent publicly accessible manifestation of the Olympic Movement. It is in the midst of a £30 million refurbishment.

DeCoubertin, who was inspired to re-establish the Olympics by William Penny Brookes, an octogenarian GP from Much Wenlock in Shropshire, once said that “holding an Olympic Games means evoking history”.

It is the century of iconic sporting moments and the spirits of athletes like Spiridon Louis, Dorando Pietri, Harold Abrahams, Jessie Owens, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Ogla Korbut, Mark Spitz, Kathy Freeman, Steve Redgrave that underpin and sustain the Olympic brand. It’s the heritage that keep the IOC’s corporate sponsors and the world’s media coming back for more, decade after decade.

Without this heritage, a latter-day de Coubertin would find it impossible to persuade a single country, let alone a single city, to invest the billions required to host simultaneous world championships for so many different sports.

When inviting the world’s athletes to come to London during the Year-to-Go celebrations in Trafalgar Square on 27 July, IOC President Jacques Rogge talked of the Games “coming to the nation that invented modern sport and the concept of fair play.”

The IOC website acknowledges how Britain created, codified or popularised 15 out of the 25 current summer Olympic sports. Thanks to Scotland’s role as the home of both golf and rugby sevens, the tally will rise to 17 at Rio 2016. It’s an unfortunate oversight that the Relay route bypasses the birthplace of sevens at Melrose.

In recent years, history has been out of fashion within Britain’s educational establishment. In spite of this, the subject has remained popular with the public and continues to attract respectable audiences on television, even in our multi-channel age. Television historians have been elevated into the ranks of celebrity. Given the chance, history can still engage and excite school children – especially when there are local and sporting dimensions.

The final presentations to the 2005 Olympic Congress that secured the Games for London were littered with references to Britain’s sporting and Olympic pedigrees. However, LOCOG’s enthusiasm for history appears to have waned.

Yes, LOCOG did name their official mascots after the aforementioned Much Wenlock and the Buckinghamshire birthplace of Paralympic sport at Stoke Mandeville. But, beyond including these two towns and a handful of other sporting venues in the Relay, references to sporting heritage have largely disappeared from more recent Relay announcements. The only reference to “heritage” in the towns-on-route announcement relates to one of the presenting partners.

While retaining the ambition to make the 2012 Games themselves “historic”, LOCOG has placed modernity at the heart of its brand values. Unfortunately, to its international audiences, “modern London” has taken on new meaning since the summer riots of 2011.

Places all over the country have significant associations with the development of sport. Incorporating just a selection of these places into the detailed street-level route could provide a narrative thread running through the 2012 Torch Relay that would demonstrate to the nation and the wider world how deeply sport is embedded into the DNA and landscape of these islands.

This needn’t be chauvinistic. The Relay provides a unique opportunity to celebrate the places all over the country and the diverse, if sometimes flawed, characters that helped shape world sport. A deeper understanding of our own sporting heritage would help prevent future embarrassments like the FA’s failed World Cup bid.

Examples are many, varied and often surprising. The magnificently named Major Walter Clopton Wingfield reputedly demonstrated lawn tennis for the first time at Nantclwyd Hall near Wrexham. John Graham Chambers, who drew up boxing’s Queensbury Rules, and was the driving force behind the first national championships in modern athletics, was born in Llanelli. Matthew Webb, the man who arguably did more to popularise swimming than any other person by conquering the English Channel unaided, was born in Dawley, just a few miles from Much Wenlock. He learned to swim in the River Severn in the shadow of the famous Ironbridge.

Charles Alcock who conceived the FA Cup and international football and also hosted the original Ashes cricket test match in his capacity as secretary of Surrey CCC, was born in Sunderland.

The story of Harry Clasper challenges the stereotypical perception of rowing as the preserve of public schools, Oxbridge and the Thames. At different times a miner, ships carpenter, wherryman and publican, Clasper became a folk hero on the Tyne racing against professional watermen from the capital. He also revolutionised racing boat design, introducing keel-less hulls and outriggers – the forerunners of the boats that will race at Eton next year. More than 100,000 Geordies are reported to have turned-out for his funeral in 1870.

The Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay was instrumental in transforming scepticism among Australians outside the host city into widespread enthusiasm nationwide. In Britain, many who live outside the M25 tire of the continual, often subliminal, assertions of the cultural and economic superiority of London. Actively celebrating the sporting contributions of the communities along its route could help protect the Relay and the Games from such cynicism.

It’s also a sad reality that Torch Relays rarely generate much media coverage outside the host nation. The exceptions are as they enter the host city towards the end of their journeys or when they attract protesters.

As the 2012 Relay unfolds, a hundred or more overseas teams will be arriving in the UK for pre-Games training camps. Involving some of these visiting athletes as torch bearers at landmarks associated with their own sports would give the international media the stories that would justify covering the event. When even the Economist is questioning the tourism benefits of the Games, extending the world’s gaze beyond London could help transform the nation’s sporting heritage into a lasting sports tourism legacy that benefits the whole country.

In her 2011 RTS Huw Weldon Lecture, Bettany Hughes said, “It is the purpose of history to allow us to look confidently into the future.” Her observation that “History is essential to nourish the next generation,” echoed the aspirations that Seb Coe had for sport when he addressed the IOC in Singapore in 2005. Reconnecting the British people with their own local sporting heritage could give a boost to another struggling 2012 legacy programme by inspiring more people to take up sport themselves.

LOCOG’s own campaign to encourage the public to nominate unsung heroes as torch bearers was branded “Moment to Shine”. London 2012 still has the opportunity to give Britain’s unique and fascinating sporting heritage its own moment to shine.

Royal visitor for Irish sporting landmark?

By , 7th April 2011 16:01

Speculation that the first state visit by a British monarch to the Republic of Ireland will take in Croke Park prompted this thoughtful piece in the Irish Times on the position of sport in the often turbulent relationship between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain.

Croke Park is the spiritual home and headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association. The GAA was established as the ‘Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes’ on 1 November 1884 partly in response to the growing popularity of sports such as soccer and rugby that had been codified in Victorian England. The Football Association had been established in 1863 before rugby formally broke away as a separate sport in 1871. By the time the seven founders of the GAA met at the Hayes Hotel, Thurles, Ireland had already made its international debut in rugby – against England at the Oval in February 1875 – and soccer, under the auspices of the Belfast-based Irish FA, at the Knock Ground, Bloomfield in February 1882.

Today, the GAA embraces and promotes gaelic football for both men and women, hurling, camogie, handball and rounders.

Since its founding, the GAA has demonstrated a dogged determination to fulfill its remit to preserve Irish sporting culture. Until as recently as the 1970s, a GAA member caught playing soccer, rugby or cricket could be stripped of their GAA membership. Rule 42 of the Association’s constitution prohibited the use of GAA property for games deemed to be in conflict with the GAA’s interests – most commonly interpreted to include association football, rugby and cricket. The suspension of this rule in 2005 paved the way for Croke Park to host major rugby and soccer matches during the redevelopment of Dublin’s Landsdowne Road between 2007 and 2010.

An indication of the Association’s success is the fact that with a capacity of 82,300, Croke Park is the third largest stadium in Europe – after the Barcelona’s Camp Nou and Wembley.


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The stadium is invariably packed for the annual All-Ireland finals in Gaelic football, hurling and camogie, . The 82,208 people who attended rugby’s Heineken Cup semi-final between Munster and Leinster on 2 May 2009 set a world record for attendance at a club/provincial rugby match.

Even in a proud republic, the stadium which is the mecca for Gaelic sport enthusiasts is a sporting landmark fit for a queen.

Shrovetide commemorations of the origins of football and rugby

By , 4th March 2011 17:21

The International Football Association Board, the guardian of the laws of association football, meets in the spring of each year. The 2011 meeting on 5 March (pdf of agenda) takes place at Celtic Manor – which gained global prominence as a sporting landmark in October 2010. Founded in 1886 when representatives of the football associations in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland met to harmonise the sport’s laws across the ‘Home Nations’, the Board was joined by FIFA in 1913. Football’s world governing body now contributes four members to sit alongside the four founding members. (The Irish FA was founded in Belfast in 1880 and governed the game across the whole of Ireland until clubs in the south formed the Football Association of the Irish Free State, later the FAI, on 1 June 1921.)

It’s fitting that IFAB meets in the spring as it falls within the season of shrovetide when ancient folk football matches that are still played in various parts of England and Scotland.  These games, which resisted the prohibitions of numerous monarchs down the centuaries for fear of their impact on archery practice, the defense of the realm and general good order, provide a glimpse of the ancestors of the modern sports of both football and rugby.

Ashbourne, Derbyshire hosts the oldest and probably best known Shrovetide game.  Asbourne Royal Shrovetide Football is played on both Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. The earliest reference to the game is a poem written in 1683: its ‘Royal’ title dates from a visit by the Prince of Wales – later Edward VII – in 1928.

A team ‘Up’ards’ born in the north side of the Henmore River take on the ‘Down’ards’ born on the south side.  The pitch stretches between two goals  situated 3 miles apart – one at Sturston, and the other at Clifton. Originally, the goals were the water wheels of two mills: today, they are purpose built plinths.

Kick-off or “turning up” of the specially made and painted ball takes place at 2pm from a plinth in the town centre.  A goal is scored by tapping the ball three times against a marker board attached to one of the goal plinths.  The game continues until 10 pm. If a goal is scored before 6 pm, then a new ball is “turned up” and a new game starts. When a goal is scored after 6 pm, the game ends for that day.


More video can be found on this Asbourne Royal Shrovetide Football site.

The Shrovetide football match in the Northumberland town of Alnwick is called “Scoring the Hales” which is now played in the Pasture, a meadow across the river from Alnwick Castle. Before 1825, the game was played in the town’s streets. Contested between the parishes of St Michael & St Paul, teams typically have around 150 players each. Victory goes to the team that scores two goals, or “Hales” first.

In Atherstone, in Warwickshire, the Shrovetide match is played along Watling Street, the Roman road linking London with Chester and the northwest. Thought to date back 800 years, the game is played between 3pm and 5pm. The winner is the person in possession of the ball at 5pm: the game doesn’t depend on teams or goals.

The Ball Game in Sedgefield, County Durham, is started at 1pm by passing the ball three times through the ‘bull ring’ in the middle of the village. It is then kicked around the village for the next three hours. There are no teams: the first person to get the ball to any of the pubs receives a free drink. After 4pm the obective is to ‘ally’ the ball into the local stream, retrieve it and then return it t the centre of the village, passing it through the bull ring three times.

Roxburghshire hosts a number of folk football matches around Shrovetide: Hobkirk’s is on the Monday after Shrove Tuesday with Jedburgh and Ancrum & Denholm staging matches during February.

Folk football is not confined to Shrovetide. Workington in Cumberland is host to a series of three matches around Easter

 

The Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle Kicking at in Leicestershire shares many of the characteristics of other folk football games but makes use of a cask of beer rather than a ball. The contest between the villages of Hallaton and Medbourne takes place on Easter Monday.

In Berwickshire, the married men of Duns take on the batchelors during the Reivers Week summer festival and even further north, in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands the Ba’ Game is played on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, between more “Uppies” and “Doonies” defined by their places of birth. For Uppies the objective is to touch the ba’ against the wall in the south end of the town, while the Doonies aim is to propel it into the waters of Kirwall Bay. Games start at 1pm and can last for up to eight hours.

 

Rugby tourists prompt trips down memory lane

By , 3rd November 2010 21:15

The arrival of the southern hemisphere rugby tourists have prompted a flurry of articles recalling the game’s early years.

Writing in the Guardian, Frank Keating tells the story of New Zealand’s first match in England, against Devon at the County Ground in Exeter, on 16 December 1905.  He also touches on the origins of the “All Blacks” name which was first coined during the nearly all-conquering tour.

Sadly the County Ground is no more – it has been acquired for a housing development.  According to Exeter Memories the ground had a long and illustrious history as a venue for many sports: cricket, cycling, tennis, horse shows and, later, speedway and greyhound racing.  However, for the time being, the site of the ground still features on Google Maps:


View The County Ground, Church Road, Exeter in a larger map

A recent post on the All Black’s first defeat by a club side in the British Isles can be found here.

The Irish Times reports that Irish-language TV channel, TG4, is to broadcast a four-part documentary series on the history of rugby since the game was first played at Trinity College Dublin in 1854.  Produced by Fastnet Films, the Gualainn le Gualainn series includes previously unseen footage of Ireland-France matches dating from 1912.   Any chance that we might get to see it east of the Irish Sea?  How about it C4 or BBC4?

My post on the 35 venues in the British Isles that have hosted 4/5 or 6 Nations rugby international can be found here.

75th anniversary of the first defeat of the All Black’s by a club side

By , 27th September 2010 14:12

With apologies to friends in the land of the long white cloud…

To mark the 75th anniversary, This is South Wales has posted this great article on how Swansea became the first clubside in the sport of rugby to defeat New Zealand’s All Blacks on 28 September 1935.

The match was played at the St Helens Rugby & Cricket Ground in Swansea which is also one of 35 venues in the British Isles to host 4, 5 or 6 Nations rugby internationals.

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