Older than the Bantams: Celebrating 112 years of black footballers in Bradford

Saturday 22 October 2011, 1.15pm. Admission free. Bantamspast museum, Valley Parade

Over a century of black footballers will be celebrated at Valley Parade on Saturday as the bantamspast museum plays host to a Black History Month event which will reveal the long history of black football in Bradford.

In 1899 a team of black players from South Africa played a Bradford & District team at Park Avenue four years before the Bantams were formed.

Two years later, in 1901, the spectacular show Savage South Africa was staged at Valley Parade in a three week run that played to over twenty thousand people. The show, complete with 500 hundred actors and 120 horses, also featured, what the Bradford Daily Argus termed ‘real African darkies’. Today the show is often criticised as being a human zoo, but for a working class family, perhaps living in a cramped terrace house, in days long before radio and television, the show must have been simply fabulous entertainment.

In 1905, only four years after the staging of Savage South Africa, Bradford City signed their first black player, the mixed race winger Billy Clarke, from Aston Villa. He had already become the first ever black player to score a goal in the first division of English football whilst with Villa. At Valley Parade he would win a second division championship medal in and score Bradford City’s first ever goal in top flight football in 1908. A hugely popular player with the Valley Parade crowds, it is interesting that, during his near 100 games for the Bantams, the newspapers barely mention his race. It seems that he was accepted almost without comment into the Bradford City family.

In the 1970s Bradford City welcomed the pioneering modern day black players Ces Podd and Joe Cooke to Valley Parade. The two men became immensely popular with the supporters and Ces is still the club’s record appearance holder, playing 565 games for the club between 1970 and 1984. Arguably, the presence of both men in Bradford City’s team, during an era that defined race relations in Britain, helped shape the culture of the club. Being a racist and a Bradford City supporter was simply incompatible. Today, the club still enjoys a reputation for openness and tolerance. Ces and Joe’s role in establishing that culture will be one aspect of Bradford City’s celebration of Black History Month.

The bantamspast museum curator, David Pendleton, will give a presentation about the visit of the black South African team to Bradford in 1899; the arrival of the show Savage South Africa at Valley Parade in 1901; and Bradford City’s first black player, Billy Clarke, who joined the club in 1905.

Professor Matt Taylor, of De Montfort University, Leicester, will speak about the pioneering black footballers of the 1970s, including Bradford City’s own Ces Podd and Joe Cooke.

The director of the International Centre for Sports History and Culture, De Montfort University, Leicester, Professor Tony Collins, will talk of the contribution of black sportsmen and women to the culture of the north of England.

We hope that our guests of honour will include, Joe Cooke and Des Hamilton, scorer of Bradford City’s opening goal during the Wembley 1996 play-off final when the Bantams secured promotion to the Championship.

The bantamspast museum event is part of Bradford City’s One Game, One Community day, which is dedicated to the Kick Racism out of Football initiative. It takes place when the Bantams play Northampton Town on 22 October.

The friends of Bradford City welcome back that rarest of thing

Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall will return to Valley Parade on Thursday 22nd September at 20:00 as the Friends of Bradford City host a forum with the former players and coaches of the club.

Both Wetherall and Jacobs put in sterling service for Bradford City with the pair of them clocking up around thirty years combined service. For Jacobs the service was on the way up the leagues starting as a free transfer from Rotherham United recovering from a season long injury and going on to be a Premier League player. For Wetherall – who scored the famous headed goal which kept City in the top flight – the only way was down and as City slipped down the leagues the former captain’s contribution was to slow that decline.

Jacobs put in 318 games for City, Wetherall 304 which dwarfs anyone in the current set up and leads one to wonder who – in ten years time – will be being invited back for functions such as this? Who are are heroes of the future when the current player with most appearances for the club – Luke O’Brien – is persona non grata at Valley Parade. Injury to Robbie Threlfall (21 apps) may see O’Brien add to his 122 appearances for City this weekend.

O’Brien and Lee Bullock (120 apps) are the only players at the club in triple figures – a long way behind Ces Podd‘s 502 – but neither seem to be set to add many to that list. Bullock was unwanted by Mark Lawn but kept by Peter Jackson while O’Brien is frozen out of the first team for reasons unknown, or at least unsaid.

Not that O’Brien has ever enjoyed great popularity at Valley Parade. As a player he is better regarded on the bench than he is on the pitch. On the bench he is the world beating Roberto Carlos ready to turn things around but, when on the field, one might wonder if one were hearing the same crowd describe the player where his efforts are met with grumbles and only quiet support.

Often the same can be said for third on the list James Hanson (79 appearances, 21 goals) who proves that he can score when given service but is subject to a level of criticism which would suggest he had picked selected members of the support and punched their dogs.

Hanson’s return is under a goal every 3.76 games – around the same strike rate as Robbie Blake (153, 40) – which puts him above a good few well respected Bantams of the past. Joe Cooke (3.99) played 271 time and scored 68 although he played central defence at times. Ask men of a certain age about Don Hutchins and they go weak at the knee and his return of a goal every 5.5 games (286 appearances, 52 goals) was a good return and secondary to his overall contribution. The lauded Paul Jewell (269 appearances, 56 goals) banged in one every 4.8 games although most of them were before Christmas.

To paraphrase the problem is not in the stars but with ourselves. A mentality has grasped most of football – having taken hold a good many years ago – which suggests that supporters are blissfully happy to be unaware of what they have until it is gone. Sean McCarthy banged in a goal every two games for City – more or less – but was nicknamed “Scud” as a reference to his perceived inaccuracy.

McCarthy won the hearts of City fans when he exited Valley Parade for Oldham on deadline day and turned up wearing a ludicrously high squad number on Match of the Day a few days later playing at Old Trafford. Players who leave the club are well regarded. Wetherall and Jacobs’ defensive team mate Andrew O’Brien was – according to one voice in earshot – “On his way to Halifax Town, if they will have him” following City’s promotion. Two years later and he was “being sold too cheap.”

An exit infers a kind of status on a player, a respect because someone else has recognised the ability, and without that status our own players are generally disregarded. No player racks up hundreds of appearances because they either are snapped up by someone higher or they are slapped down and leave of their own volition.

A Catch 22 situation then. If a player never leave it is – in the eyes of some – because he is not good enough for anyone including City so should not be suffered to be in the side. It is no coincidence that the greats of Bradford City history: Stuart McCall, Bobby Campbell, Peter Beagrie; left the club before coming back.

Not Jacobs or Wetherall though. Both stayed with the club as players and became part of the coaching set up at later Valley Parade. Wetherall left for a development job with the Football League while Jacobs was unceremoniously launched from the club after Peter Taylor’s sacking. There was a verbalised question mark over Jacobs coaching ability and the former number two probably has too much class to point at the current state at the club – the so called “worst team in Bradford City history” – and ask how his departure improved things at Valley Parade.

One wonders if Wetherall and Jacobs are a rare thing. Only fourteen players who topped three hundred games for City and to add to that list Luke O’Brien would have to play pretty much every game for the next four season for a club where he is the only player who has been here for more than four seasons.

Rare things, and worth see. The forum is free to Friends of Bradford City members or a single shiny pound for non-members.

Celebrating 106 Years of Black Footballers at Valley Parade

In the popular imagination pioneering black footballers are epitomised by Cyril Regis and Viv Anderson, at Valley Parade thoughts turn to those icons of the 1970s Ces Podd and Joe Cooke. However, they were far from being Bradford City’s first black players, over sixty years earlier the Bantams signed the mixed race winger Billy Clarke from Aston Villa.

In 1901 Billy Clarke had already become the first ever black player to score a goal in the first division whilst at Villa. After moving to Valley Parade in 1905 he helped Bradford City win the second division championship and in September 1908 he scored Bradford City’s first ever goal in the top flight of English football.

At Valley Parade on 22 October 2011 this forgotten piece of the Bantams’ history will be celebrated, along with the contribution black footballers have made to the history of Bradford City in the ensuing 106 years.

Our visitors on 22 October, Northampton Town, had another pioneering black footballer Walter Tull in their team prior to the Great War. He signed from Tottenham Hotspur in 1911 and when war broke out he was the first Northampton player to enlist. Tull eventually became the first ever black combat officer in the British Army. Sadly, he was killed during the conflict. The home match against Northampton is the perfect occasion to celebrate 106 years of black footballers at Valley Parade.

Several events are being lined up for the day, but at the moment we can confirm the attendance of Joe Cooke. Join the big man himself in the bantamspast museum from 1.30pm where you will hear of the exploits of Billy Clarke and the experiences of the more recent black footballers at Valley Parade.

We have invited the great Ces Podd and are endeavouring to contact Bradford City’s Wembley hero Des Hamilton. Which other former black Bradford City players would BfB readers like to see at Valley Parade on 22 October? Here’s your chance to suggest the players we should invite and why? Jamie Lawrence? Darren Moore? Stan Collymore?

Some football teams wear pink, get over it

The conventional thinking on Merseyside is that when Everton brought out the salmon away shirt a number of years ago it had a single purpose: to make supporters buy the home strip. By creating something that no one would want the salmon strip gained a kind of cult appeal, but the blue sold more.

Nike showed off a Bradford City away strip of a similar colour alongside a claret and amber striped home shirt and perhaps that a similar agenda might be at play. Football clubs have lost control of what supporters consider to be “the shirt” and the fact that the Bantams home shirt is distinctive and rare in the world of football heightens that problem. Wearing anything claret and amber to a game and you are wearing “the shirt” regardless of what is the current vogue.

The away shirt though is pink and the colour pink – although not this shade of it – has connotations. Pink is feminine – it will be interesting to see if the away shirt gets a significant uptake from female fans – but when worn by men it is gay. We have the Nazi to thank for starting this connotation – Jews were given yellow stars, Romany given black triangles, and homosexuals pink triangles – but the gay rights movement reclaimed the connection.

Others do not though and it is interesting – if somewhat depressing – reading comments flying around about the new garb how easily the connotation between gay (or female) and pink is drawn and how quickly that becomes negative.

“Look like girls play like girls” is one side of a line, “It could be an ‘Away Gay Day'” is simple homophobia. In the space of four months we have gone from the players not being fit to wear the shirt to the idea that shirt not being fit for the players.

Then others go much further suggesting that the players might be embarrassed to wear the away kit, perhaps even refuse to play in it, and that any supporter buying it should “take a serious look at themselves.”

Another has suggested that the pink will cause trouble at grounds. That away fans – their sexuality questioned by home supporters – will respond with fists and that the fact that eleven men are wearing bright pink will bring violence. I wish I were making up the fact that people would present such a spurious justification for violence but sadly I am not.

Sometimes football is embarrassingly anchored in a different era, other times it is dangerously so. Anyone verbalising such thoughts might be correct, but then again the same could have been said in September 1970.

Players would be embarrassed to play alongside Ces Podd who made his début that month, some would refuse to play with a black man. Perhaps people said that anyone supporting a black player needed to “take a serious look at themselves” and perhaps there was the suggestion then that it would bring violence as one set of fans felt the need to fight to empathise their right to hold onto petty, poisonous bigotry.

Footballers like Podd – and supporters who would not allow those bigotries to be justified – challenged the way that supporters thought and changed it. It was football being an instrument of social change – eventually – and it is something that should be and will be celebrated.

City have already played their first gay player but that player – and the other who followed him, and the others at every other club – decided that he would keep that to themselves. Football has an environment which suggests that gay players should keep themselves in the closest and the reaction to things like City’s pink away kit highlight the reasons for that.

In the end Ces Podd was just another footballer, this is just another away kit, and the next gay player to play for City is just another player. Consider it this way and football gets to that instrument for social change via acceptance and something other than 22 men kicking a bit of leather around the field.

Bruce Stowell, an amateur turned professional

Two years ago Stuart McCall was debating whether Bradford City could offer James Hanson enough of a weekly wage to improve on his combined income from Guiseley and the Idle Co-op. Fifty years earlier Bradford City were saved from an identical dilemma when Bruce Stowell, who had initially signed as an amateur, turned professional. But Stowell was from another era.

When I was a lad, there were two certainties at Valley Parade – three, if you count the occasionally threatened prospect of Fourth Division football. One was that City would play in amber shirts with claret pinstripes, the sort you could see from the Kop, not the 2011 version. The other was that Bruce Stowell would always be in the team, usually wearing a number 4 shirt. Neither was quite as certain as a young fan might have liked, but Stowell saw me through my youth and left only when I was 21.

Bradford born and leaving school at 15, Stowell followed so many of his generation into the mills. He was still working there when he signed professional terms at the end of 1958 and he stayed in the mill until 1967. For the best part of a decade one of City’s most consistent performers played part-time and did a proper job the rest of the week. And, to borrow the old cliché, I bet he did come to games on the bus.

When Stowell won a regular first team place, he was a wing half. Only when Alf Ramsey’s wingless wonders won the World Cup did Stowell become a midfield player. He was maybe more of a defensive minded player than another number 4 who followed him, via the same brief and mistaken route as a Leeds United schoolboy. But Bruce had played for Bradford Boys and would become, to all intents and purposes, a one club man.

As soon as he became a full time professional, he was the obvious choice to captain the team. In his first two seasons as a full time player he hardly missed a game. At the end of the second season, 1968-9, City secured their first promotion for exactly forty years. The captain, still with the same hair cut that he had sported as a mill hand, led the way. However deep the Valley Parade mud became, Stowell covered every inch of the pitch game after game after game. He tackled, he passed and he cajoled the younger players in a team where the Bradford accent predominated. Ian Cooper, Bruce Bannister and Bobby Ham were all regulars in that promoted side and maybe we could forgive John Hall for being born just over the boundary in Bramley.

The record books will tell you that Stowell’s most significant game was played in October 1970. It was his 344th league game for City and it broke the club appearance record. There is a nice mathematical symmetry about that game. The new record holder was wearing his familiar shirt. The number three shirt that day was Ian Cooper’s and in the number two shirt it just had to be Ces Podd. Each in turn would hold that appearance record. Bruce went on to play 437 games in a variety of claret and amber strips, scoring 18 goals.

So much for the record books. But those of us who saw him play on 3rd January 1970 witnessed his finest hour. The match was in the third round of the F.A. Cup and the opponents were Tottenham Hotspur. Jimmy Greaves had whacked the ball against the post after four seconds. Pat Liney never even saw the rebound. The usual Valley Parade mud had iced over. The Southern Softies clearly didn’t fancy it. (OK, so not all of them were southerners. Out of interest, the starting eleven were: Jennings, Kinnear, Knowles, Mullery, England, Beal, Johnson, Greaves, Gilzean, Perryman, Morgan. Not a bad side, I suppose.) But the Bradford lads (with Denis Atkins at right back, five Bradford born players faced Spurs) were proper footballers, who played in all weathers for their team. One of those 18 career goals from Bruce Stowell secured a 2-2 draw against the super stars and cup specialists.

In 1972 he left Valley Parade and played just 16 games for Rotherham before emigrating to Australia. There he continued to play for another three seasons before embarking on a coaching career in Queensland and Malaysia.

Maybe Bruce Stowell really was just one of those players ‘from another era’. But maybe that
‘other era’ is not too distant after all. Bruce played in City teams that struggled to keep their League status. He knew how lucky he was to make a living out of the game. And he gave his all every week. Not quite a fully fledged hero, but Bruce Stowell and what he brought to the teams of my youth deserves to be fondly remembered and, by someone at least, to be imitated.

A Chronic Illness

I’m really looking forward to the Dagenham game. I may not have the best of reasons for making that statement and I hope that BfB readers will at least understand my feelings, but the one reason for my anticipation is that I won’t be at Dagenham. It will be the first game I’ve missed, home or away, since Barnet back in February and I just feel the need to do something else.

In the run of eleven consecutive games since then, I’ve seen just two wins, both at home, and I’ve travelled more miles than I care to tot up. You have to bear in mind that I travel over 150 miles just to get to a home game. At least Chester brought some reduction in my mileage, although it hardly balanced out the trip to Exeter and Bournemouth.

For those of you who don’t drive any distance to get back home after a game, I should point out that the journey lengthens according to the result and the performance. The 70-odd mile trip back home was reduced to about 30 miles, or so it seemed, after the Aldershot game. On other days the same trip has felt like 200 miles.

It’s not just the travelling, though. I’m well used to that by now. I think I’m just generally worn out. Sometimes I think I’m not the only one showing signs of weariness. I think there are plenty of others more closely connected with Bradford City who display the same symptoms.

And it’s not just a question of being tired with the poor performances, although much centres on that issue. I’ve seen poor performances many, many times. I’ve watched years of fourth division football at Valley Parade and plenty of meaningless end-of-season games. If you go back to the end of the 1980-81 season, City finished 14th in the fourth division and played their last game at home to Hereford. Now there’s meaningless for you. And the crowd of 1249 remains a record low for a league game at Valley Parade. I could have reduced it to 1248 by staying at home.

I’ve seen City twice finish 23rd in the fourth division, a final placing that today would get you into the ‘non-league’ league. In one of those seasons they even managed to lose 7-1 at home (their second consecutive 7-1 defeat) to the team then bottom of the fourth division. I never felt quite as bad in those dark days. So it’s not just losing (or not winning) that brings on this malady.

I think I know what the cause is and, even if some fans don’t share my little delight about being given some brief respite care, I think plenty of the Valley Parade regulars will recognise my diagnosis. In a word, I’m disappointed.

In that team that played Hereford we had one or two decent players. There was a young kid at the back called Peter Jackson. There was a slightly older hand in defence by the name of Ces Podd. And up front there was a player in his first full season at Valley Parade. His name was Bobby Campbell. They all had character. OK, one or two of the rest of that team were hardly household names and fourteenth in the bottom division is no claim to fame. But I wasn’t as disappointed as I am now.

Disappointment in my case is a measure of outcome against ability. In real life, that is to say in places that are not Valley Parade, I have always tried to assess what I and others are capable of achieving and then to measure outcomes against that assessment. It’s no good expecting the youngster fresh from school to know how the business works. But the senior manager with twenty years in the job has greater expectations on his shoulders. Among many other factors, that’s why he’s paid more and why I expected more. The newcomer can hardly disappoint at first, but can do after a while if he shows no sign of progress. The senior man can disappoint a whole lot more quickly, simply by not living up to his capabilities.

And so it is in football. Nobody expected Bradford City in the 1960’s to win the league title or the F A Cup. We were a strictly fourth division outfit with, by and large, strictly fourth division players. (Yes, I saw the exceptions, like Bronco and young Hockey long before he could grow a beard.) Even that team of 1981 needed a few more, slightly better players to come into the side that would win promotion the following year. And if you want to see the other side of the expectation coin, there is no finer example than the team that one famous ex-player dubbed the worst team ever to play in the Premier League. (I wonder, how long did it take for his hair to grow back?) Exceeding expectations was what they did best.

You can’t be a Bradford City supporter for too long without being disappointed. Sometimes it’s just one or two games. Sometimes it’s a longer period, but maybe the disappointment is slight or moderate. But this time it’s over a very long period and, because the outcomes are measured against the proven capabilities, the disappointment is about as deep as it comes.

Back in January I wrote ‘At our best, we are truly better than this league. When we’re not at our best, we need to work hard just to match most of our opponents.’ To illustrate that point I cited two goals, one scored by Michael Boulding, the other by no less than Barry Conlon. Those goals had two things in common. They were both team goals, as opposed to examples of individual brilliance, and they resulted from open play of a quality several steps above this league. Indeed, I haven’t seen any opposition team match either of those goals this season.

I doubt very much if anyone at City regrets the fact that we scored those goals. The only reason for regret is that they set a standard that has not been attained for many weeks now. There were plenty of other moves earlier in the season that, while they weren’t finished off with goals, showed how good these players can be at this level. Again, the standard was set; the capabilities were revealed; the justified level of expectation was created.

At the start of the season City were among the bookmakers’ favourites for promotion. There was much hype and many column inches were spent on creating what I then saw as an unjustified expectation. This was, after all, a very new squad. We had not seen several of the signings, except as members of opposing teams, and we didn’t really know how good a team they might make. But by mid-season we knew what they were capable of and we also knew they would have occasional lapses.

As we near the end of the only 46 games that matter, those of us who have watched so many of those 46, in particular this one who has watched all of the last eleven, wonder where it has all disappeared to. If the pre-season expectations were mere words, the performances and the results soon showed what could be achieved. And therein lies the measure of the disappointment, that for so long now performances have fallen so far below what the players are clearly capable of achieving.

The inevitable question is ‘Why?’, but I’m far too tired to even attempt an answer to that one just yet. Let me have my respite, if you will. Let me stay away from Dagenham, if I promise to be back for Rotherham. And then let me try to think about ‘Why?’, even if it may all be a bit late by then.

Fancy a Flutter with Stuart and Wayne?

It is now nearly four years since Bradford City went into administration for the second time in two years. Who could forget the turbulent times facing our football club during the summer of 2004? Supporters rallied round to help raise £250,000 to save the club by eating maggots, participating in sponsored walks, hopping between football grounds and children wearing their City shirts with pride at school. This excellent work was, in part, co-ordinated by Bradford City Supporters’ Trust (BCST).

BCST is still going strong after being formed in 2002 following our first period in administration. Indeed, they have recently been awarded a grant of £5,000 from the Co-operative Group following a successful application with Ian Ormondroyd’s Football in the Community.

This money is to be split equally in support of two projects: the annual Community Week held at Bradford City in May and the work of the Positive Lifestyle Centre at Valley Parade. This tremendous effort by BCST indicates that they still have a strong desire to help support both Bradford City and raise the club’s profile within the district of Bradford, despite the fact that City is supposedly now in a stable condition financially following Mark Lawn’s injection of money into the football club.

If you would like to do your bit to support the club, why not come to the John Hendrie suite at Valley Parade on Friday 15th February at 19:00 where BCST has organised a racing night with City Gent editor Mike Harrison will be presenting eight video races with eight horses in each race on which you can place your bets. This is going to be a great, fun evening, hosted by BBC Radio Leeds match commentator Derm Tanner, with guest appearances from Stuart McCall, Wayne Jacobs, John Hendrie, Ces Podd, Dean Richards and Des Hamilton. Admission is £5.

Remember it wasn’t too long ago that a collective effort by supporters helped to save our beloved football club. Although the club is now in a lot healthier position, there is still plenty of progress to make so why not have a flutter at the racing night? You never know, you might enjoy yourself and you might win a bob or two!

Scarborough Go To Dust

Scarborough have always maintained a position close to my heart. Seaside town, nice little ground and when in 1987 they became the first club to claim automatic promotion to the Football League from the Conference they did it with Bradford City Legend Ces Podd at right back. They were a nice little club.

And for a little club they made some progress. After promotion they were bought up by a guy who had recently sold lighter company Ronson and he moved them forward a little before reaching what he perceived to be a ceiling and closing the coffers. He ended up swapping the club for another who he believed would not be held back by the little club tag that Boro always had and moved into Bradford City. That man was Geoffrey Richmond. The rest of that story you know.

The rest of the Scarborough story ended this morning at the High Court in Leeds with debts of £2.5m pushing the ailing team out of business. A statement from the club said it all

While it is sad to see the demise of a club with a proud history of 128 years, the club’s finances have for a number of years been in a very poor state and the company has been in and out of various insolvency proceedings.

Scarborough tried to sell the stadium but could not. The Judge noted that the early winding up would allow the Supporters Trust to form a new club and carry on the tradition of football. 128 years of tradition to be exact.

Scarborough has been in the League until 1999 and were in the UniBond League for next season after two relegations. At the top of that the larger league Watford took away £20m for finishing bottom. Next season £60m will do to the final placed club. The creeping mismanagement of Boro’s finances are one thing – business of football is often characterised by how badly it is done – but what we have here is a club starving to death on the outskirts of the richest City in the country. A drive past Black Fryer’s Bridge says we can do this is life but I hope that football could be an escape from those harsh realities.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the way that football works. Scarborough crash while others boom and the laws put into place to protect the game and it’s institutions are woefully inadequate being used to punish the weak in the case of Rotherham last season and reward the cunning. Leeds United, I refer to thee.

Every attempt to put a rule in place that could have been put in place to help the clubs who suffer in administration has been thwarted by opportunists such as Ken Bates at Leeds or the Leicester City directors that walked away from Filbert Street. Geoffrey Richmond’s plan to readdress the situation in 2001 was good sense from the wrong mouthpiece.

Richmond’s plan was to let football get its house in order post-ITV Digital by offering new contracts and making redundant players who would not sign them. It was a harsh way of ripping up a deal and the worry for some that prized assets would use this contract freedom to leave for The Premiership on free transfer scupperred it. Clubs like Scarborough ended up on a slow route to extinction and for whatever reason could not find a way off it.

A historical anomaly – and a worthwhile footnote – that it was Geoffrey Richmond’s attempts to make football law that could have saved his old club.

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