The Yanks are coming!

The Yanks are coming!

By Tim Charlesworth

The American influence has been growing in the Premier League for many years now.  Two of Arsenal’s directors are American citizens, and our own Silent Stan is the wealthiest of the Americans to buy a Premiership club.  This Americanisation is more than just skin deep – the statistics and techniques of American sport (sometimes derided as ‘Moneyball’) have infiltrated English football to a degree unimaginable even ten years ago.

Famously, Arsenal has paid £3m per annum to Stan Kroenke’s sports company in order to get access to this expertise, although many have feared that this payment was really a disguised dividend.  Recently, many fans celebrated (upon the publication of our annual accounts) the fact that in 2015/16, Kroenke’s company waived this payment, but all reports suggest that Arsenal continue to receive its mystical services.

Elsewhere, last week saw the appointment of Bob Bradley as manager of Swansea, and on Saturday he will bring his team to the home of football.  He becomes the first American to manage in the Premiership.  I’m almost expecting to hear Beyonce sing the Star Spangled Banner and Diana Ross to miss a penalty before we kick off.

This (unlilkely) possibility gives me an excuse to write about an aspect of American sport, that is often dismissed, but occasionally moves me deeply.  Before all major sporting events in the USA the national anthem is performed amidst scenes of reverence and jingoistic celebrations, that us cynical Europeans, and Brits in particular, struggle to understand.  I would like to write an explanation of this curious American ritual, and hopefully put it into context for those who are less familiar with its origins (spoiler alert – this article really is not about Arsenal).  In so doing, perhaps I can do a tiny bit to promote empathy with our distant cousins, and make the world a slightly more understanding place.

The lyrics of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ come from a poem called “Defence of Fort McHenry”.  It was written by an amateur poet and lawyer, 35-year-old American, Francis Scott Key.  During the ‘War of 1812’, (which confusingly lasted until 1815) between Britain and the USA, Key found himself on a truce ship in Chesapeake Bay, observing a truly horrifying manifestation of modern warfare.  From his position, Key witnessed the bombardment of US Fort McHenry by the British Navy, which stood off in the Bay and rained bombs and rockets continuously onto the fort for 25 hours on the 13th and 14th September 1814 (bombs which were almost certainly manufactured at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich).  It is the first verse of Key’s poem which is traditionally sung as the USA national anthem:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The words commemorate Key’s feelings as he watched the sunset (twilight’s last gleaming) set upon the doomed fort and its flag, never to see it again.  The fort was bombarded throughout the night and Key expected dawn to reveal a scene of death and devastation, not only of the fort, but of the American dream of freedom from oppression.

Instead, what Key saw ‘by the dawn’s early light’ was that the fort had survived the night, and that its flag (‘broad stripes and bright stars’) still flew (‘gallantly streaming’).  The final two lines of the verse, often sung with such high emotion by American artists, recall Key’s feelings as the morning revealed, not a scene of destruction, but that the noble proud experiment of US freedom had lived to fight another day.

It is easy to forget today, that in 1814, the USA was a minnow of world affairs and that it was Britain that was the arrogant, violent, imperialistic world power.  The USA was a nation born in revolution a mere 38 years before the events of 1814.  It was a union of 15 states in the North Eastern corner of North America (compared to 50 across the whole of North America today).

The Britain that America emancipated itself from in the late Eighteenth Century, was not the free speaking pluralistic society that we live in, but an oppressive, religiously intolerant, monarchic oligarchy.  Britain had a parliament, but it was not the democratic institution which we understand today, merely a mechanism by which the aristocracy of the day could restrain the power of the monarch.   Full civil rights were only granted to wealthy people who followed a strict interpretation of the state religion (the Church of England).  The colonies of America were the sanctuary for those people who wished to escape the religious oppression of the British state in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Eventually the colonists rebelled against the imperial power of Britain and a new country was born.

It is easy to forget just how extraordinary the US adventure was.  The American constitution of 1776 was not a copy of similar existing documents, but a bold experiment inspired by the principles of ancient Athens and ancient Rome.  In becoming a democracy, it joined a worldwide club of just one.  It seems obvious to us today that people ruled by remote empires will seek to overthrow their oppressors and form free states.  In the modern world, the American colonists were the first to do so[1], the fact that the idea is so commonplace today is largely thanks to their courage and their example.  The USA of 1814 was truly ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’

The British arrived in Chesapeake Bay in 1814 with the intention of invading Maryland.  The Royal Navy controlled the Seven Seas.  Fresh from its defeat of Napoleon at Trafalgar, it was confidently conquering the rest of the world, and it was far from clear that the puny USA would be able to resist its might.

The British method of projecting power at the time was not hugely different to the way that the modern US Navy distributes its political influence today.  Modern US presidents tend to send their peerless aircraft carriers to places that they wish to influence and then use the carriers as a base from which to launch devastating cruise missile and assault plane attacks.  The Royal Navy of the Nineteenth Century used to sail its warships up to a city (remember virtually all cities at the time were either on the coast or on a river) and shell people until they saw the British point of view (this method was known as ‘gunboat diplomacy’).

As the Royal Navy sailed into Chesapeake Bay in 1814, the very future of the infant democracy seemed suddenly in doubt, and Fort McHenry was all that stood between the British and the city of Baltimore.  The survival of that flag and the repulsing of the British Navy (who simply ran out of ammunition) was an event of global significance.   Like a child standing up to the school bully, it gave the USA confidence on the world stage.  The new nation grew from strength to strength and, to this day, its very existence has never been seriously threatened again.

The story of the defiance of Fort Henry is a familiar one to American school children, so the song has a meaning to US citizens beyond just the words of an abstract anthem.   The story is less familiar to British people.  British historians usually relegate the war of 1812 to a sub-plot of the Napoleonic wars; it is a story of rare defeat for the Royal Navy; and the subtext of ‘Britain as oppressor of the young democratic nation’ hardly appeals to our sense of historical glory.

The song also celebrates the US flag, and goes some way to explain the affectionate relationship which Americans have with their flag, another thing that is a little difficult for us Brits to relate to, living, as we do, in a nation where our flag has been appropriated as a symbol of neo-facism.

Fort McHenry was (and is – it still stands and is open to visitors) built in the shape of a five pointed star.  Its name commemorates James McHenry, a Scots-Irish immigrant who was one of the signatories of the original American constitution.  The flag which flew over the fort that day is one of the most precious US national treasures and is preserved (albeit slightly charred looking) in the National Museum of American History in Washington.

Of course it is easy to sneer at the modern USA.  It certainly can’t be cast as the underdog that it once was, and some of its actions are difficult to reconcile with the principles of freedom and justice.  However, we should not lose sight of the bigger historical picture.  The USA is a nation bravely founded on freedom and civil rights, and although power always corrupts, it has mostly used that power, however imperfectly, to project those values throughout the world that it now dominates.

Us Brits can also claim a little credit for the good things that the USA has done.  Most famously, we played a heroic role in the defeat of the fascist dictators in the Second World War, but we can also claim a supporting role in the defeat of communist oppression and a leading role (during the Nineteenth Century) in teaching our American cousins that slavery was not morally acceptable.  The war of 1812 was our last attempt to assert ourselves with our transatlantic offspring, and our two nations have lived in peace and alliance ever since.

We live during only the second period in human history that the world’s greatest superpower has shown such devotion to the principles of democratic freedom.  The first such period was Athens of the fifth Century BC.  Athens was also an imperfect state where women were repressed and slaves were kept, but the great legacy of that society lives with us still, and is widely celebrated.

Anyway, there it is.  I’m not sure if you can get away with writing something that is essentially a bit of poetry criticism on an Arsenal website (even a sophisticated one like Untold).   The interlull is nearly over, so I promise to write about football next time, who knows, maybe even about Arsenal!

If you liked this article, you might enjoy Tim’s book “It’s Happened Again”, which is now available on Amazon (print and Kindle versions).  Read a sample chapter at

[1] The first revolution inspired by the US example was the 1789 French Revolution.  The French people made a gift to the Americans by way of thanks for the inspiration.  We know that gift today as the Statue of Liberty.

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39 Replies to “The Yanks are coming!”

  1. A fascinating piece of history, Tim, the details of which has probably escaped most of us.
    On the subject of foreign owners of our football clubs, I find them vaguely unsettling. Why are they here and what is their exact purpose?
    As far as Arsenal FC is concerned, this £3m for “consultancy services” continues to grate. And apart from buying up shares from other shareholders, what is the Kroenkes’ precise contribution to the furtherance
    of our great Club?
    The worrying aspect of foreign ownership of British football clubs is the fact that it merely involves a financial investment and little else. The sporting side is often left to others, which in the case of Arsenal, is just as well. At the same time however, I have a sneaking feeling that should the playing performance begin a steady downward trend of failure, our two Americans would soon sell their shares and leave. 😉

  2. @Nicky, what kind of downward trend of failure? and u hope our 2 americans would sell their shares and leave so a new kind of ownership (Abramovic type) to come in and pick up the pieces so Arsenal will start to follow his type of business model and abandon their value and principle that were preserve by Arsenal parent company for a such a long time. that’s never going to happen.

  3. This is a quite interesting read, as a Gooner, and also an American who lived 2 miles down the road from Fort McHenry for several years. I never put together or even considered that the ammunition the British Navy would have used to shell the fort would have been made by the former members of the club I support. Arsenal even has a bar/restaurant (The Abbey Burger Bistro) that shows games and has a collection of supporters located not but 2.5 miles from Fort McHenry.

    Funny how things change in time…

    To comment on Nicky’s worrying aspect of foreign ownership – It is much better for the owner to make a financial investment and little else. As a longtime supporter of the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles, there is nothing I would like better than an owner who would not intervene beyond a financial investment. Both organizations have been plagued for 15-25 years with owners who like to meddle, to little on-field success. Since Premier League doesn’t quite have a strict salary cap like major US sports, one would think an infusion of big-cash and nothing else would be welcome.

  4. Nice article. Interesting hearing about these events from a British perspective. It is actually a miracle that this fort survived that shelling as it is completed isolated in the harbor. Just to correct you, the Constitution was formally signed on September 17, 1787, whereas the Declaration of Independence was signed on July, 4 1176 and sent to King James III. As an American, I believe Kroenke will become bored of this project soon. He recently moved the NFL’s St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles (the equivalent of moving a club from Wolverhampton to Kensington) increasing the value of that franchise ten fold. He is now involved with the construction of their new stadium estimated between $1.86B – $2.66B in USD. He has had to transfer ownership of his 3 Colorado based sporting franchises to his son due to the NFL ownership regulations. I just hope he leaves it in good hands when he does, American owned or not.


  5. Tim

    You must have done a whole lot of research to write this piece. Although it’s extra long and I don’t think most people will have the patience to read it through especially as it does not pertain to football or Arsenal. To those of us with the patience to get to the bottom, kudos.

    Like a said it’s a good piece but I sincerely don’t think you will get a lot of reading here. Maybe in a political journal is more appropriate but kudos all the same.

  6. Not for the first time a lot of waffle which, apart from the introductory paragraphs, has nothing to do with Arsenal.

    History can be a fascinating subject and the version of history which one reads depends largely on the balance of integrity against political persuasion of the writer.

    But what is particularly disgusting in this article is the use of the comparison of a child standing up against a bully – and the underlying inference that the Royal Navy was behaving as a bully. I am not sure if this is Tim’s own thought or something he has plagurised from an American text – either way it is shameful!

  7. Thanks Tim for this for me interesting article.
    I must admit I had never heard of Fort McHenry before. Probably shame on me but we didn’t really focus on American-British history that much apart from when it touched my own country. We had enough occupiers in our history to fill our history books with. 😉

    I must admit I usually looked at it and didn’t really understand the shown passion behind it. Now I think I do. Or at least will understand it a bit better.

    I was just wondering do they do this before every sports event even let us say a children official football match?

  8. This article is said has nothing to do with Arsenal in particular and football in general. If that be the case, why then publishing the article on the UA that’s principally an Arsenal FC & football articles and comments based site?

    Just to remind us who Stan Kroenke is? Not only an American millionaire with vast investment in sporting outfits that includes Arsenal? But an American who should be proud of the US Navy who had a victorious war history at one time in history over the then one time invisible Royal Navy of England which they ever since been cherishing with their national anthem and national flag to date?

    So be it.

  9. WaO! This is absolutely fabulous! Thanks million Times you’ve educated me so well.
    To now know the historical setting is so satisfying. I am a Nigerian and was born when the British empire ruled us as a colony. We were taught the history of British empire and as a child used to be angry when I read how the Royal subdued Lagos, King Jaja of Opobo etc.
    So nice to put learn now that the American colonies stood up to the bully.
    Note that the history books we read then never mentioned Fort Henry!
    Terrumun Bitto.

  10. Canada tends to do the anthem thing as well. Lots of Americanisms (USA-isms) get pushed onto us. I think it is mostly related to professional and national team play. But I suspect that there might be some places where anthems would be played even for high school sports.

    In particular, there is little need to play an anthem if only 2 fans are watching. So it probably requires a big audience. It would not surprise me if anthems are played for Texas High School Football (gridiron). I recently heard a story about High School football in Michigan (a long way from Texas), which makes me think anthems in Michigan might also happen.

    I see some evidence of national anthems at junior (ice) hockey games in Canada. Just checking, some swim meets have the national anthem (in the USA). It could be quite widespread.

    I think Tony is going to be busy. Bob Dylan won a Nobel prize in literature.

  11. @bushido,
    I wish you would read a comment before rushing in to print.
    I didn’t HOPE for anything.
    The point I was making and you have clearly missed, is that the Kroenkes have no proper allegiance towards Arsenal FC and should disaster fall on the Club (remember Leeds United?) they will surely up-sticks and leave. 😉

  12. I don’t think Alisher Usmanov has any allegiance either. Nor do other minor shareholders. For instance, Pierce (me with a sharp stick) Mrgan only has allegiance to himself.

  13. @ so it’s not your hope but your sneaking feeling isn’t. no proper allegiance? he’s Arsenal majority share holder who did not interfere with football matters that was control by the boards and Arsenal parent company plus AW. what the supporters should be really afraid is that should Arsenal fall into the wrong hand of ownership, example Leeds who follows glory hunter business model. i just can’t see the point of your comment.

  14. I really enjoyed reading this article , Tim , long being an history buff and all . Thank you .
    I do enjoy learning something new each day , even if it means that it may not sit well with my take on things. I learn to file it away for some future time when more definitive facts are presented.

    And I for one love the fact that Silent Stan keeps very much to himself and that he leaves the playing side to the experts. As it should be .

  15. Tum the USA declared war on Great Britain, during the Great Britain and France conflicts.

    The USA was the only country to support Napoleon to the bitter end?

    As for the £3, you have fallen for the AST version? Quote:

    “IG stated that the fee was paid to Kroenke and Sports Enterprise which is one of the largest, most respected and successful sports organisations in the United States, operating in the most sophisticated sports business market in the world. Their central team has extensive experience in the finance, digital, broadcast, ticketing, stadium operations, facilities and analytics areas amongst others. At Arsenal we have a very good and capable management team but we run a tight ship based on the scale of our operation and it would be irresponsible not to draw on this additional expertise that is available to us. In terms of any future fees, that would depend on the nature of the services provided. It was a proposal by the Chairman to pay a fee for the wide range of services provided to Arsenal Football Club by Kroenke Sports and Entertainment. He felt it was good governance to pay a fair fee for these services.”

    From the Supporters Forum minutes March 14th, 2015.

    Back to school, Tim!

  16. @bushido,
    With respect, unless your view is presented in a reasonably grammatical and understandable manner, I cannot comment on it.
    Sadly, your 5.25 fulfils neither criterion.
    Read it again and re-submit. 😉

  17. Gord and me being Canadians, I’d also like to mention that the War of 1812 also saw;

    1)The first and only invasion of the US,
    2) The only time their Whitehouse was burnt and Washington,DC occupied by a foreign army (Brits & Canadian militias)
    3) The defeat of the invading American army at Queenston Heights (near Kingston, Ontario) that ended once and for all the American ambitions to annex Canada,
    4) The creation of a large Canada-based navy to deter future US aggression,
    5) The establishment of loyalist Upper and Lower Canada that lead to the creation of Canada as an independent nation 55 years later,and helped solidify French-Canadian loyalty to the Crown,
    6) A sense of national unity that led to the eventual completion of the world’s longest transcontinental railway at the time(1866), in Canada, as a project to protect our sovereignty and counter US expansionism.

  18. @nicky, no u need to learn about the club u support 1st. Arsenal will never gonna do a Leeds cos of our business model is so successful and and many clubs see it as a role model to their business plan and envy by some. that was Arsenal identity and it will never going to change and the reason our previous owner agreed to sell their shares to silent Stan cos he agreed to preserve that. before the previous owner listen to Stan business plan they even tell the yanks to take a hike but in the end they all found the common ground. that’s why people like Usmanov will never going to be Arsenal majority share holder mainly cos of their business plan will effect and hurt the club in the long run. if u cannot understand that then what more can i said. at least i understand the club identity rather then act like i knew then make a pointless point like u do.

  19. @bushido,
    It is ironic that you should use a pseudonym of a long- dead warrior-class in Japan.
    I and many others fought against cruel, inhuman and barbaric forces during WW2, of whom we had no respect whatsoever.
    You do no justice to those who suffered and still suffer by using a name that should for ever be despised in the annals of history.
    You are probably of an age when ignorance of the past will excuse knowledge and I would earnestly advise you to consider using a name about which there is an association of freedom, decency and integrity. 😉

  20. @nicky, what? are u for real. 1st u said my grammar is bad and all that like u are some english teacher or something and now u just attacking me cos of my nickname. how old are u, how can u be so childish.with your emoji and all that i’m not surprise.this is football site man, not a ww2 homepage. all i did is just talking about football then suddenly u get butthurt when i exposing u had lil knowledge about the football club i support and just made my point.from your view i sense u don’t like the majority shareholder cos he’s not british and the point u make about the club and the ownership is not valid. i don’t know what the hell is wrong with u.

  21. Well for all the knockers here (if you’ll pardon the expression) I found that very interesting. Very tenuous link to afc but I for one don’t mind. Thank you.

  22. Tony I think your being a bit hard on the British at the time of the war.
    First of all it was the Americans who declared war on the British.
    So why did the Americans do this the stated reason was that the British where stopping and searching their merchant ships and removing American sailors to serve on the royal navy ships it turns out a large percentage of these removed men had deserted from the royal navy.
    The British where preventing trade between USA and France who the British were involved in a life or death struggle.
    The French had 600,000 troops that where about to send in to Russia plus the troops in Spain.

  23. Now the was 2 other reasons at the time that the Americans of today or in the history of the war don’t dwell on.
    1 was they intended to capture Canada and make it part of the USA.
    The 2nd reason because the British where supporting a large numbers north American Indian tribes it was making it difficult or preventing the expansion into the Western plains.

  24. So what where the major out comes of the war and why did the British sign a peace treaty in Ghent.
    After the defeat of Napoleon the British became allies to the French so the was no need for the trade blockade or the searching of American ships for a source of extra sailors.
    The war had moved in to a period of stalemate so the Americans and British where happy to sign the peace treaty at Ghent.
    So to the out comes of the war the British held on to Canada and the fact is the ties between Canada and Britain improved.
    Also the biggest emancipation of slaves on the American continent took place during the 1812 war until the end of the American civil war.
    With over 6500 freed slaves declared freemen and allowed to live in Canada.
    As history tells us it didn’t work out to well for the plains Indians. Because as consequence of the war martial support from the British stopped PS one of the aims before the war and during the war was that the would be a recognised country for the Indian nation west of the independent USA.
    The stalemate in the war ended any possible of that happening.

  25. A different variation on Yanks.

    Didn’t Nike have some kind of trouble a while back? Child labour or something?

    In any event, Chelsea is breaking a contract with Adidas (6 years early) to start a potentially 900 million agreement with Nike.

    Adidas is German, Nike is USA (Oregon?)

  26. @nicky, since u are expert about war history, what about the cruelty of british soldier through out history and their war crime. u are such a hypocrite person, talk about your war but in the same time ignoring the cruelty inflicted by your own kin to others. who the real ignorance here. worst of all was the treatment of the Irish, penal laws was enacted so to justify white slavery when so many Irish slaves were sent to Barbados when british want to start a colonies there. by the way The Bushido is a code held restrictions on the Samurai, prohibiting them to do many things and to live a very honest life and had nothing to do with war or ww2. so get off your high horse and don’t forget to take your medication.

  27. Nicky….bushido is the code of the samurai, who were poets,policemen and warriors for the Feudal lords in Japan. This was a code of honour, like the medieval knights adhered to. It was mutated by the Imperial forces after 1880, into a military code that was rather less honourable. My uncles and father fought those bastards in WW2 and were convinced that they were far worse than the Nazis, although,imho, they were all of a bunch of sadistic warmongers.
    All this to say that Bushido shouldn’t be criticized for using that name, as it has honourable connotations and is still followed by practitioners of judo,Karate and Aikido today, minus the aberrant parts.

  28. I have to say that having lived 10 years in the US, I was still unaware of the background of the anthem. Thanks a lot Tim for explaining it.

    As far as playing it is concerned, every major sporting event (and oftentimes less than major, as long as it gets some audience) hears the Anthem. And yes, that applies to the Canadian anthem too. In the instances where an US team plays a Canadian team, both anthems are being heard. This applies for instance to MLS (think Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps) and NHL, but I remember having followed athletic events on TV, and the anthem is being played there too.

  29. As soon as there is an article about war and suddenly some get bloodthirsty… 😉
    There are good people in every country and bad people in every country.
    In only the bad people weren’t so powerful and agressive…

  30. @bushido,
    You nave said that English is your third language.
    My advice is to stick to the other two.


    Paul Revere’s Ride- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    Listen, my children, and you shall hear
    Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
    On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
    Hardly a man is now alive
    Who remembers that famous day and year.

    He said to his friend, — “If the British march
    By land or sea from the town to-night,
    Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
    Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light, —
    One if by land, and two if by sea;
    And I on the opposite shore will be,
    Ready to ride and spread the alarm
    Through every Middlesex village and farm,
    For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

    (Continued by BG -)

    And so as pledged did he ride , to warn of the coming strife .
    At each and every house he would ask of the wife ,
    ” Is your husband home ?” , And the answer would be ” Yes!” ,
    and he would say to her …,” Missus..,
    wake him up and get him a arming , The British , they be a coming !”

    Thus did Paul Revere all that night tirelessly ride ,
    until he chanced upon a beautiful but lonely bride ,
    ” Is your husband home ?” he asked in his stride .
    ” Nay , my lord , he is not .” she sighed in woe,
    ” Gone across the bay has he for two days or more.”

    Gallant Paul Revere did thus his ride that night end ,
    And with a word that shall echo in history forevermore.

    ” WHOA !!! ”

    With apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow !

  32. As far as I am concerned, there is one thing that I’d like the ‘Yanks’ to get implemented here in the PL : the salary cap.

    Just look at the NFL and the NBA. Their championships ars vivacious and you don’t get stuck in a one or 3/4 way league like the baseball championship which does not have a salary cap.

  33. More than just focussing on The Arsenal ,I believe that 6 clubs, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool , Swansea , Palace and Sunderland are in American ownership .2 clubs Bournemouth and Chelsea are Russian,1 Chinese at WBA plus a percentage of Man City , 3 Arab :- City,Hull and Everton and Italian at Watford. THis leaves just 5 in British ownership , West Ham , Spurs , Stoke, Burnley and Middlesborough .
    Typical of Britain of late we build a successful business and then sell the family silver.

  34. @nicky, i don’t need advice from person who don’t like other people cos they not british. u are the one who need to stay clear of the comment section. person who speak english as his 3rd language just kick your british butt good.

  35. Why would Paul Revere be shouting the British are coming weren’t they all British at that time. ?

  36. I think he was shouting, “The people that never use spices are coming.” 🙂

    England, the place where a tenth of a gram of spice can last forever. Just show it to the food, you don’t need to add any.

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