Why the media is so critical of Arsenal: it all goes back to the two Arsenal men who were banned from football for life

By Tony Attwood

We’re running a series on why people are so critical of Arsenal – a series that seems particularly apposite at the moment where the launch of the season previews in the press have led to remarkable attacks on the club in both the Telegraph and Independent in the last couple of days.

I first raised the question in Do other clubs get the same level of constant sniping and negative reporting or is it just Arsenal? and asked if a reader could be found who would do the research.  The answer was yes, and the research findings – I suspect the first serious analysis of the comparative way in which the media handles different clubs – will be published here shortly.

The second article – Why are people so negative about Arsenal? The first answers – picked up on one particular phrase in one of the comments received on Untold in relation to the “Do other clubs” piece.  It was

But other big clubs do not stand by a manager that hasn’t won the league in 12 years. In fact Arsenal have never done this before. I suppose it depends if you perceive Arsenal as a big club.

My criticism was that this comment played the regular game of taking one issue, and considering it from a single point of view and drawing some sort of conclusion from that.  That seemed to me a worthwhile comment because it is what the critics of Arsenal (the central concern of these articles) do all the time.   To give a counter comment I cited the range of managers Tottenham had had during the Wenger years, without winning that much, and then got a counter-comment to that saying that it was wrong just to focus on one issue.

A second point I raised was that the building of the stadium through money that came from the banks and had to repaid had hampered Arsenal, but again no allowance was made for this by the press.  Indeed the only place where you will find much of an analysis on what happened to other clubs that built new stadia is in an Untold Arsenal article “New Stamford Bridge…” which points out that most clubs that build a new stadium then get relegated.  Constant top four finishes might not get bits of silver but they were unprecedented for any club doing what Arsenal did.

That thought led me to consider, in “The First Answers” piece noted above, the growth of Arsenal’s crowds after the building of Highbury, and the curious coincidence that it took 12 years to win a trophy at Highbury.  Arsenal at the Emirates stayed in the top four, Arsenal at Highbury stayed in the First Division (just!).  Each was an achievement of great merit under difficult financial circumstances.

But now I want to consider something else.  The fact that the issue of being critical of Arsenal goes way, way, way back and the fact that it is the response of the chairman to such criticism that is the key.  This is a topic that has been covered on the Arsenal History Society site, but it seems relevant to look back at that debate and expand it somewhat, in the light of the rise of the current attacks on Arsenal that now litter the newspapers and their web sites on a daily basis.

In fact, you might be a little surprised to see how far back the attacks on Arsenal by both prototypes of the aaa and by the press, actually go.   Indeed the first issue we know about was the instance of Harry Storer, the Arsenal goalkeeper who was suspended suddenly by Arsenal for a month in 1895 – in Arsenal’s second season in the league.

We know the last game he played was Woolwich Arsenal 0 Liverpool 2 and we know Storer was successful (five wins and one defeat in the last six), recognised as a fine keeper and not injured.  What we also know is that after the Liverpool game the club suspended him for a month and then sold him to Liverpool.

What seems to have happened is that in the final game for Storer at the Manor Ground, he was involved in an altercation with fans behind the goal, and he claimed that the spectators had behaved in a “disgraceful” manner.   Now this was not the only occasion in which goalkeepers of either team were given a hard time, and indeed the Arsenal History Society uncovered the tale of an Arsenal keeper who moved on to play for Tottenham, and who was so outraged as his treatment by Arsenal fans upon his return to the Manor as a Tottenham player, he left the field of play mid-match and assaulted a spectator.

But with Harry Storer this is a case of Arsenal fans booing their own keeper – and not just their own keeper, but the club’s first player to be selected for a representative XI, and a man who was achieving considerable success in goal for the club.

As Mark Andrews’ book on The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal reveals, as the crowds increased, one end of the ground (the Abbey Wood end) became the home of the barrackers.   Indeed, as Mark points out, so bad was the attitude of some of the crowd that local reporters often commentated on the fact that they were forcing decent minded supporters out of the ground.

So it seems that Storer stepped out of line in response to the booing and barracking (although we don’t know exactly what he did), and was suspended and then sold.

After the events on 26 January 1895 the FA ruled that Arsenal, was the ground should be closed for the rest of the 1894/95 season. However, on appeal a “compromise” of a mere 6 weeks suspension was agreed upon by the FA.  But as Mark points out an almost identical episode of ref bashing at Wolverhampton Wanderers next season in October 1895 led to their ground being closed but for only 2 weeks. At least one non-local reporter put the disparity in the harshness of the sentences from the FA, down to Arsenal’s role as the pre-eminent southern professional team.

So it seems there is a history of Arsenal being treated differently by the authorities from the earliest days of the club, perhaps because Arsenal had broken the mould by bringing professional football to the south.

But the move to Highbury did not dissipate matters, for in the late 1920s a new form of internal dissent broke out as a group of supporters again started to barrack individual Arsenal players as had happened at the Manor Ground.   The player who suffered most from this was Jack Lambert whose record as a goal scorer tells its own tale:

Season Appearances Goals
1929/30 20 18
1930/1 34 38
1931/2 36 22
1932/3 12 14

Jack however was one of those men who was a nervous player and often took a while to get going in a game and so was an easy target for the crowd – and some continued to make life difficult for him even during the four years noted above when his goal scoring record was beyond anything ever seen before.   You can read the whole Jack Lambert story here.

Jack of course played in the era of Herbert Chapman, and there is a tendency these days to think of this as a time of great success, and therefore perhaps peace within the club.  But this was far from the case and Chapman regularly wrote in his newspaper column of his outrage as the behaviour of what he called the “boo-boys” who constantly sought to attack Arsenal’s own players.  The “boo-boys” term became widely used in relation to some Arsenal supporters, and indeed is still occasionally used by the media today to describe fans who attack their own players.

Matters reached a pitch on 14 January 1933 when Chapman picked a number of untried reserves to play in the FA Cup match against Walsall.  Arsenal famously lost, and many players complained regularly that subsequent to that match nothing they could do was ever good enough for the Arsenal fans – not even winning the League three times running.  Arsenal had the biggest crowds in the league – but also the biggest level of moaning.

Thus all the way through what on paper look like the glory years of Arsenal in the 1930s there was seething dissent on the terraces.   But what had brought it about?

It is of course hard to pin down the exact cause, but every time I consider this, one factor stands out: the removal of Lt Col Sir Henry Norris from the club.   He was the chairman from 1910 to 1927 was an incredibly strong, public fighter for Arsenal’s position, often openly castigating the League and the FA in the club’s programme for actions that he perceived to be against the interest of the club.

Sir Henry’s vitriolic attacks on (for example) the FA for the terrible way it treated Tom Whittaker after he was injured on an FA tour in 1925, and on the London Combination (the League that ran during the first world war) for its utterly biased handling of the Victory Cup in 1919, made him the hero of all Arsenal supporters.  Here was a man who stood up in public for Arsenal, and everyone who loved the club knew that it always had a staunch defender.

Even when the FA twice investigated the transfer to Arsenal of Clem Voysey in 1919 Sir Henry stood his ground, and the FA had to back off on each occasion admitting that they had no evidence that anything was wrong.

But when Norris was deposed from his position of chairman after an ill-judged court case against the Daily Mail, there was no one so voluble to take up the fight for Arsenal.  And at once the media turned wholesale on Norris and Arsenal, making up endless wild stories about the 1919 election to the first division and so forth – stories that had no foundation in fact but were seized upon by Tottenham, and everyone who was jealous of Arsenal’s growing support.

Indeed the press having gained their victory in court turned on the club wholesale, and the new aristocratic regime in the boardroom did not have the wherewithal to take them on.  And of course some on the terraces, seeing the toffs in the directors’ box, followed the press’ lead.  Chapman did his level best to take on the boo-boys, but without serious backing from the boardroom, he was fighting on his own.

What made the job of Chapman in dealing with the boo-boys and the attacks in the press so much harder was not just the fact that Sir Henry had been banned from football after losing the libel case against the Mail, and not just that the subsequent directors would not stand up to the media as Sir Henry did, but the reminder (oft quoted in the media of the day) that Herbert Chapman had also been banned from football for life after the demise of Leeds City where he worked, before going on to Huddersfield Town.

The story was simple: Arsenal was the centre of football corruption.  Sir Henry was corrupt (or at least had lost a libel case against the Mail) and Chapman was corrupt (having been banned from football for life over illegal payments to Leeds players).  In short Arsenal were corrupt.

Now the media wanted their own back against Sir Henry – and the Arsenal – and they would do anything to get it.  Sir Henry Norris was a typical self-made entrepreneur who left school at 14, built his own fortune through his house building company, supported causes that the media opposed (jobs for all men who returned from the war, emancipation of women, government control of the way the private railways were run etc etc) and was thoroughly outspoken.  They got their revenge with the Daily Mail case, and then turned not just on Sir Henry, but on Arsenal, noting that not only was Sir Henry banned from football, but that even the Arsenal manager had been so banned, and had only been allowed back in “on a technicality”.

Given that Arsenal then became the most successful club the country had ever seen (going from being a team that had never won the league until 1930 to the team that won the league three times in a row, five years later) the assaults were ludicrous and clearly governed by spite.

This tradition has continued ever since, and in the next article, I’ll show what happened subsequently.

Untold Arsenal is a pro-Arsenal site set up to counter the regular unsubstantiated attacks on Arsenal by “fans” and journalists, using evidence rather than opinion. We do publish comments and articles which contain a counter point of view, but normally only where these also contain evidence.  We don’t republish every piece of evidence uncovered by Untold in its 6000+ articles to back up each point made in each subsequent article, as that would be tedious in the extreme, but it is all on this site, and we are working on an index to make it easier to find it all.

Untold Arsenal has published five books on Arsenal – all are available as paperback and three are now available on Kindle.  The books are

  • The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews.
  • The Arsenal Yankee by Danny Karbassiyoon with a foreword by Arsene Wenger.
  • Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace.  By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson.
  • Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football.  By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
  • Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood.

You can find details of all five on our new Arsenal Books page

38 Replies to “Why the media is so critical of Arsenal: it all goes back to the two Arsenal men who were banned from football for life”

  1. Wow. What a fantastic and interesting read. Love it and can’t wait for the next one.

  2. 1919 to today always in the top flight of english football that’s what gets up there noses

  3. Hey Untold,

    Why don’t you guys use your obviously very widely read blog to put some pressure on the club to start actually being ambitious in the transfer market and landing us what we need to win the league.

    The comments from the CEO have been a disgrace. The lack of a striker and defender is shocking and the total lack of decisive leadership from the very top of the club is obvious for anyone to see. Please explain why we cannot purchase a striker that we have needed for many years now and the club keeps making it clear they will not be spending any money. Can we please at least be honest enough to say the owner is either taking the money or preventing AW from spending it.
    There is zero feel-good factor this year heading into what should be AW crowning glory of a season after all his hard work.
    Can we please unite together to place some real pressure on the club to spend what is required to make us realistic title contenders.
    I don’t expect 75mil on higuain that is nonsense but how about 60 on aubameyang, who incidentally could have been bought for 15mil when he was originally available. How about Lacazette for 40mil. And add ben yeddar for the 8mil he is available for also. Can we please show actual ambition. This is the same reason Fabregas and Van persie left the club as well as nasri. We showed no ambition, we are making the same mistake again. There is no financial excuse now, just a pathetic transfer policy that is not in keeping with the current market. Getting value is one thing, having no clear plan and getting noone is completely unacceptable for this great club of ours.

    This is the most pressing issue right now and we must show Sanchez and ozil and the rest of the squad that we mean to be serious about winning the league and the CL as well.

    Btw please know I am a massive AW fan but not this transfer policy. It is outdated and does not project an accurate reflection of a club the size of Arsenal should.

  4. Thanks Oga Tony for this wonderful piece. To all Gunners, all TRUE fans, now we’ve seen the reasons for the press “love”. Let us roar on behind our darling club, lets be the twelfth player. Supporting the manager and the players all the way. for me, it’s gunners till i die:
    God bless the Arsenal.

  5. Great piece , Tony . From wrong presumptions they started hating us and despite being constantly corrected , they chose to wallow in their ignorance .
    What a sheer waste of half a brain !

  6. What a celebration it would be , when we rejoice our 100 years in the first division . And later , when we complete the full 100 seasons ,ie sans the war years .
    And I just know that Arsene Wenger will still be our manger . Wouldn’t want to miss it , so I ‘ll better start saving now !
    WOO HO , HOO !
    Up the Gunners !

  7. Thanks for this great article, been wondering why the bias against Arsenal, sometimes I think that it’s because of my sentimental attachment to Arsenal that I see things the fans of other clubs do not see. We refuse to accept the way they want us to see our club and manager. I think it’s high time we sponsored someones yo fight our cause in the media. with love from Nigeria.

  8. Gooner S, because these days you are almost not allowed to say anything that defends the club.

  9. Too bad we don’t have anyone close to Sir Norris to fight against FA and their Cerberus who is out under the name of PGMO these days.

  10. This season will tell us again how the FA is biased against Arsenal. ManC will now play more possession football, which Arsenal has been doing for sometime. Will they receive protection from refs, FA, etc Will they be left exposed like they have done to the Arsenal? We will see.

  11. Once again Untold Arsenal contains another quality article that can only enhance the current reputation of UA as a mighty fine read for all persons genuinely interested in Arsenal Football Club. Thank you for such an enlightening piece

    Furthermore I would recommend the Arsenal History Society site to all. The articles on that site have kept me personally gripped, throughout the current so-called off season. Far more interesting and informative reading than media articles concerning the arrivals and behaviours of new premier managers.

    Two such sites are continuously available to us ardent followers of Arsenal football club. Long may they continue.

  12. I’d need older fans than me to clarify this but if there was any big bias against us in the early 90’s onto about 2000, my early years supporting the club, I was totally oblivious to it.

    A few years back, I watched an old game for which Ron Atkinson was commentating and it shocked me to hear how much respect he had for the club. ‘The Arsenal’, to Atkinson, and it was clear he had huge respect for us.

    I’m wondering if this was fairly typical back then.

    If so, what the hell changed?

    Multitude of factors, I suspect, and no one will convince me Ferguson didn’t play a huge role in it.

    Wenger arrived when Ferguson, a good pal of Graham, which I didn’t realise until years later, was cementing huge power and influence in the British game. I believe Ferguson then used every trick in the book to attack us, and ultimately the media was happy to help.

    That became, increasingly, the way of it, but the fact we battled titanically with Utd at the top of the league until Chelsea’s emergence limited how much criticism was possible, or at least defined the nature of it.

    Slipping from that position of eminence at the top of the league meant open season could begin.

    The next stage basically involved having to ignore the impact of money in football. To acknowledge it, correctly and always, would set the terms of how much you can praise mega-spenders and how much you can slam those who can’t match the spending. We all know the choice the media made.

    At least here we can say that choice was not really about Arsenal. It was about the whole league and modern football itself. To talk too much, in a consistent way, about money would be damaging to the product.

    The media, however, do aim for something like consistency and credibility, in their own warped way, and so to stick with their narrative that money is not the predominant force in modern football, that meant we were guaranteed to be viewed as a club who were failing. We’d fallen from winning championships and consistently being in the top two to below that. Failure. We weren’t matching other big clubs in the transfer market and were regularly losing players. No ambition. Failure (Remember you need to be blind, at the right moments, to financial reality, to push this view)

    Then, perhaps the biggest sin, we refused to live on their terms : a failing manager has to be sacked. Arsenal’s refusal to countenance parting ways with a manager who was, they insisted, no longer what he was, and NOT because of finances, violated their simple rules and narratives. That meant war, and that’s what has gone on for the last decade or so.

    If they had chosen to judge us fairly and accurately in terms of the impact of changing finances in football, it would mean having to do so for the rest of the league. No chance. Plenty more to it than that, but alone that can explain most of it.

  13. Interesting article. It’s a theory anyway. I don’t know how relevant it is to today’s situation. I tend to think Arsene Wenger’s incorruptibility has a lot to do with the current dislike by other figures in English football.

    Just one correction. There is no such thing as a self-made millionaire. Every millionaire makes his millions from the labour of the workers.

  14. Best to stop taking the media seriously or ignore them completely when they mention Arsenal.
    Now after being on Untold for so many years i do notice the media’s sly tactics and now i have a complete change of mentality.

  15. Tony K you asked

    Why don’t you guys use your obviously very widely read blog to put some pressure on the club to start actually being ambitious in the transfer market and landing us what we need to win the league.

    There are several articles in the last few weeks in relation to this in relation to transfers – just flip back through a few and you will see what we have said.

  16. Norris having run ins with the hilarious funny papers way back when?
    The Chapmen boo boys in the 30’s?
    GG getting sacked for wanting the kind of bungs all his mates were on?

    I blame Vengarrrrgggghhhhh

  17. Tony K
    If I can attempt to try to answer your question, it might go something like this.

    Tony and Walter (UA proprietors) are without a doubt fine people but get entirely too giddy at any mention of theirs and their fine blog by Arsenal.com, which suggests their relationship with Arsenal FC is more of a sycophantic type rather than a partnership type.

    No football club is perfect and it’s the job of the media to hold its feet to the fire when you spot any impropriety or perceived lagging behind the times on any issue.

    Arsenal FC fail to pay their employees the London living wage.
    Tony has admitted to strongly opposing this but I wonder how much he’s done about it.
    It would be interesting to know what kind of pressure he has put on the club while talking to Ivan Gazidis in regards to this issue. My guess is not much, otherwise he would have mentioned something on here.

    If Tony does nothing, or very little about the issue he supposedly feels strongly about, then what makes you think he would do anything about the issue of transfers, on which he and UA are in complete agreement with Arsenal FC.

    I might go even a step further and say Tony gets his talking points directly from Gazidis re transfers but that’s just my opinion.

    And now let’s see if I can better my personal record for dislikes which stands at 105 , I think 🙂

  18. Tom
    ‘And now let’s see if I can better my personal record for dislikes which stands at 105 , I think’
    And no doubt fully deserved!

  19. Tony K

    Tony does have the ear of one or two people at Arsenal, but it’s doubtful that he would jeopardize his connections by bringing up something as controversial as what you’re suggesting, especially so considering the recent comments by our CEO which seem to be in complete contradiction as those made by our chairman earlier this year.
    They (at Arsenal) are obviously well aware of the fan’s discontent at lack of certain transferctivity and Gazidis seems to be on a damage limitation exercise of which he’s failing calamitously.

  20. Arsenal FC fail to pay their employees the London living wage


    I don’t live in the Uk so this isn’t a prime concern for me, but as far as I know, Arsenal pay their employees the London Living Wage. What they have not done is cancel their contracts with companies who don’t pay the LLW. Which seems like a perfectly reasonable action to me. How can they force other companies to do something, and why should they break their contracts (and pay settlement fees)

    I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong about this, but this was the last I’d heard on this subject.

  21. Tom

    I’m kneck & kneck with you on that 105.
    I can’t imagine who it could possibly be .?

  22. My memories of Arsenal date from the 1960’s. My impression is that the general hostile media bias has always been evident. The 1971 Double team was disliked for being successful and not being Spurs. The media favoured all of our opponents in the Terry Neill era cup-finals (Ipswich, Man Utd, West Ham), they resented our historic 1989 victory at Anfield and disliked us for beating Liverpool to the League Championship again in 1991. During this period we were accused of being dirty (nobody seemed to mind that our points deduction was twice that given to MU, who started the fight). In George Graham’s later years we were castigated for being defensive and boring, we got little credit for the domestic cup double in 1993 or the EU CWC win in 1994. The media loved the subsequent GG “bung” scandal. The hostility in the Arsene Wenger era has become more intense, partly because of the growth of media outlets and blogging, but it is not new.

  23. On the Arsenal.com website, is a note about the game against MLS All Stars being available to watch early Friday. I guess they don’t expect you to stay up all night watching the game live.

    Attached to that note, is an image presenting the two games, Arsenal versus MLS All Stars and Arsenal Versus Chivas.

    Look at the trailer on the Chivas game: not available in North America and Canada.

    Gee thanks, I didn’t know that Canada was not part of North America. North America consists of the USA and Mexico?


  24. When I was much, much younger I remember a London newspaper’s sports strip cartoon suggesting that Arsenal were in a precarious situation and could be relegated and that our team was so bad that we might have to put out our youth side (Arsenal X) to save the day.
    I took it at that time as the penalty you pay for being a successful world famous team, and that they “put you up to knock you down”, and still have that opinion.
    Truth be told I don’t recall any particularly cruel stuff through the so called “dark years”, but it may have been there all the same. Most of the fans that I knew at that time just accepted that we were pretty awful during that period and probably deserving of criticism.

  25. Tom.

    How on earth can you say they are fine people while suggesting they are total and utter liars who very deliberately set out to deceive everyone here?

    If someone can do that and be a fine person, in your book, what does someone have to do before they become a rotten person?

    And if you think you’re being clever by accusing them of massive dishonesty in such gentle, amiable tones, you’re not.

    Tony would be an immoral, completely dishonest person if he were being fed lines by Gazidis while never mentioning any relationship with him (as far as I know), and, simply, that’s an outrageous accusation and, more importantly, a completely absurd one given the complete and utter lack of evidence of it.

    There’s also a giant fundamental flaw in your little theory: if Tony and Walter get giddy at any mention on Arsenal.com, try and imagine their delight if they were in regular, friendly contact with the 2nd most powerful figure at the club, Gazidis. Do you think they would be able to hide that delight of theirs? If so, cunning devils they are, why would they get excited by the comparatively paltry honour of a mention on Arsenal.com?

    But…maybe, maybe they are feigning excitement in relation to Arsenal.com, just to throw people off the scent…

  26. To kill the London Living Wages “lies”:

    Ken Friar
    Town & Country Planning Act 1990, Section 78
    Appeal by Arsenal Football Club
    Emirates Stadium – Music Concerts
    PINS Reference:
    LPA Reference:

    3.10 When events are held at the stadium we employ additional temporary staff, with over 700 required to steward an event. A steward will typically work a 9 hour shift at £10 per hour, therefore the casual wage bill is approximately £70,000 per event. A significant proportion of these employees are from the local area.

    3.11 It is also worth recognising the benefits that arise from these jobs. For example, our catering partner, Delaware North, run an initiative to employ disadvantaged young people between the ages of 16-21 years old, who are not in work. Details of the number of those people that we were able to provide with opportunities for each concert from Islington and surrounding boroughs are listed below. Clearly, the number of young people that would be able to benefit from this initiative would double if this appeal were to be allowed.

    – Muse 25.06.13: 190 staff (this was a clash event with Wembley)

    – Muse 26.06.13: 273 staff

    – Green Day 01.06.13: 300 staff

    Delaware North, now have the catering contract for the Olympic Stadium.

    The Arsenal contract, with Delaware North, preceded all this nonsense, that Arsenal are Scrooges!

  27. “Cleaners contracted by the Arsenal through third-party suppliers are believed to be paid the minimum hourly rate of £6.81, with pay for catering staff starting at £7.28. The London Living Wage is £9.40”. ref:Islington Tribune
    This is as of 15th November 2015, and is what the fuss (as in fans protest) was all about.
    Arsenal themselves are clean in this respect, but need to lean on their contractors to pay their staff a living wage.
    Could have been changes since last November though.

  28. I must agree with everyone who says Arsenal should employ sub-contracting firms who pay the living wage.

    If there are contractual problems, they should re-advertise the contract with the new terms as soon as the contract is over. But I feel that a big outfit like Arsenal could surely lean on its sub-contractors a bit more and get things changed now.

    And doesn’t a disadvantaged 16 to 21 year old deserve the living wage at least as much as anyone else?

  29. Just to add, frankly, the so-called living wage is scarcely a fortune anyway. Especially with the cost of living in London.

  30. To add to the ‘media agenda’ issue, how many times have I read at the bottom of a piece on the web, a sentence like : Arsenal have finished second to Leicester in the last Premier League season’ or any combination of words basically saying we failed and always fail, often with an added critical twist like : and have not won the PF for the past 12 years, or such crap.

    Out of curiosity, I went out on those sites to read other stories of other teams, don’t have to name them….
    And guess what…did not find ONE out of the series I randomly chose with a mention like this (except it would have been 6th place or 3rd place etc…). And the Liverpool! and Sp*rs pieces never carried the remark : have never won the PL and not won any Championship for the past xx years.

    I cannot get clearer as that.

    Or seen differently, Arsenal does raise expectations of the whole world to such a level, that people don’t give a damn about the other teams ?!?!?

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