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Bristol Rovers

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Bristol Rovers

Bristol Rovers
Full name Bristol Rovers
Nickname(s) The Pirates, The Gas
Founded 1883;  (1883) (as the Black Arabs)
Ground Memorial Stadium
Horfield, Bristol
Ground Capacity 12,011 (2,500 seated)[1]
Chairman Nick Higgs[2]
Manager John Ward
League League Two
2012–13 League Two, 14th
Website Club home page
Home colours
Away colours
Current season

Bristol Rovers Football Club is an English professional association football club, based in Bristol, that competes in Football League Two, the fourth tier in the English football league system. The team plays its home matches at Memorial Stadium, in Horfield, a suburb of Bristol.

The club was founded in 1883 as Black Arabs F.C., and were also known as Eastville Rovers and Bristol Eastville Rovers before finally changing its name to Bristol Rovers in 1899. They were admitted to the Football League in 1920 and have never dropped out of it since. The closest they came to losing their league status was in 1939, when they were re-elected after finishing bottom of Division Three (South), although they came perilously close again in 2002 when the team finished (second from bottom) just one league position away from relegation to the Football Conference. Their highest finishing position was in 1956 (which they matched three years later in 1959) on both occasions they ended the season in 6th place in Division Two, then the second tier of English football.

The club's official nickname is The Pirates, reflecting the maritime history of Bristol. The local nickname of the club is The Gas, from the gasworks next to their former home Eastville Stadium, which started as a derogatory term used by Bristol City fans but was affectionately adopted by the team. Their main rivals are Bristol City, and according to a survey conducted in December 2003, Cardiff City and Swindon Town are considered the second and third biggest rivals.[3] Rovers contest the Bristol derby, the Severnside derby and the Gloucestershire derby.

Currently Bristol Rovers play in League Two after their relegation from League One during the 2010–11 season. The club is affiliated to the Gloucestershire County FA.


For a statistical breakdown by season, see Bristol Rovers F.C. seasons.

Early years

The club was formed following a meeting at the Eastville Restaurant in Bristol in September 1883. It was initially called Black Arabs F.C., after the Arabs rugby team and the predominantly black kits in which they played. This name only lasted for the 1883–84 season, and in a bid to draw more fans from the local area the club was renamed Eastville Rovers in 1884.[4]

Football: Wotton-under-Edge v Black Arabs (Bristol). A match under association rules has been played at Wotton-under-Edge between these clubs, resulting in the defeat of the visiting team. The home team were in every point superior to their antagonists and after a one-sided game Wotton were declared victors by six goals to nil.

Dursley Gazette, 3 December 1883, reproduced in Byrne & Jay (2003).[5] A report of the Black Arabs' first match.

The club played only friendly games until the 1887–88 season, when it took part in the Gloucestershire Cup for the first time. In 1892 the club became a founder member of the Bristol and District League, which three years later was renamed the Western League. In 1897 Eastville Rovers joined the Birmingham and District League, and for two seasons played in both this league and the Western League.[6] At the beginning of the 1897–98 season, the club turned professional and changed its name to Bristol Eastville Rovers,[6] and on 17 February 1899 the name was officially changed to Bristol Rovers.[7] In 1899 Bristol Rovers joined the newly formed Southern League, where they remained until 1920, winning the league title along the way in 1905.[8]

Into the Football League

For the 1920–21 season, the Southern League teams were moved into the new Division Three of the Football League, which became Division Three (South) the following season. They remained in this division for over 30 years, before winning the league, and promotion in the 1952–53 season.[9]

The team has won promotion on three other occasions: in 1973–74 from the Third Division to the Second Division, again in 1989–90 as Division Three champions and also in 2006–07 to the Football League One. The club has been relegated five times—in 1961–62, 1980–81, 1992–93, 2000–01 and most recently at the end of the 2010–11 season.[10]

The highest position in the football ladder achieved by Rovers at the end of season is sixth place in the second tier, which they did twice; once in 1955–56, and again in 1958–59.[8] The closest they came to the top flight was in 1955–56, when they ended the season just four points below the promotion positions.[11] The lowest league position achieved by the club is twenty-third out of twenty-four teams in the fourth tier, which was attained during the 2001–02 season.[8] It was a narrow escape from relegation from the Football League on two counts; firstly they ended just one league position above the relegation zone, and secondly the rules were changed the following season to increase the number of relegation places to two, meaning that if Rovers had finished in that position one year later they would have been relegated.[12]

Cup competitions

The only major cup competition won by Bristol Rovers is the 1972 Watney Cup, when they beat Sheffield United in the final.[13] The club also won the Division Three (South) Cup in 1934–35, as well as winning or sharing the Gloucestershire Cup on 32 occasions. The team has never played in European competition; the closest Rovers came was when they missed out on reaching the international stage of the Anglo-Italian Cup in the 1992–93 season on a coin toss held over the phone with West Ham United.[14]

In the FA Cup, Rovers have reached the quarter-final stage on three occasions. The first time was in 1950–51 when they faced Newcastle United at St James' Park[15] in front of a crowd of 62,787, the record for the highest attendance at any Bristol Rovers match.[16] The second time they reached the quarter final was in 1957–58, when they lost to Fulham,[15] and the most recent appearance at this stage of the competition was during the 2007–08 season, when they faced West Bromwich Albion.[17] They were the first Division Three team to win an FA Cup tie away to a Premier League side, when in 2002 they beat Derby County 3–1 at Pride Park Stadium.[15]

They have twice reached the final of the Football League Trophy, in 1989–90 and 2006–07, but finished runners-up on both occasions. On the second occasion they did not allow a single goal against them in the competition en route to the final, but conceded the lead less than a minute after the final kicked off.[18]


Further information: Bristol derby, Westcountry Derby, Gloucestershire derby, M4 derby and Bristol Rovers F.C. and Swindon Town F.C. rivalry

Bristol Rovers main rivals are city neighbours Bristol City, with whom they contest the Bristol derby.[3] This rivalry was deemed 8th fiercest rivalry in English football in an in-depth report by the Football Pools in 2008.[19] The most recent encounter between the clubs took place on 4th September 2013, which saw Rovers beaten by City in a Football League Trophy tie at Ashton Gate Stadium by a 2–1 scoreline. Other rivals are mainly other teams from the West Country, such as Swindon Town, Plymouth Argyle, Exeter City and Yeovil Town. Rovers also contest the Gloucestershire derby with Cheltenham Town and Forest Green Rovers.

In the past, rivalries also emerged with Severnside rivals Cardiff City known as the Severnside derby.[20] Rovers most recent meeting against Cardiff was a League Cup match on 26 August 2009, which Cardiff went on to win 3–1. This game took place at the new Cardiff City Stadium and the Rovers only goal from the game came from Steve Elliot.[21] The last time Cardiff and Bristol Rovers were in the same league was in the 1999–2000 season.

Bristol Rovers and Plymouth Argyle have played each other 88 times in the Football League and in national cup competitions, with the better record belonging to The Pilgrims due to their 34 wins compared with Rovers' 28.[22] The most recent encounter with Plymouth occurred on 1 January 2013, which Rovers won 2–1. Rovers were 2–0 up at half-time, the defeat for Plymouth against Rovers resulted in Plymouth sacking their manager Carl Fletcher and saw John Ward register his first win of his second spell as Rovers manager.[23]

The first time Rovers encountered Yeovil was a Football League Trophy match was on 31 October 2001, which Rovers won via a penalty shoot out. The most recent encounter was also in the Football League Trophy which Rovers lost 3–0.[24] Because of the close proximity many players have also represented both the clubs, for example Adam Virgo, Gavin Williams, Dominic Blizzard and Tom Parkes. Yeovil have played in at least the division above Rovers since the 2010–11 season.

Colours and badge

Team colours from 1883 to 1885

Bristol Rovers are known for their distinctive blue and white quartered shirts, which they have worn for most of their history. The current home kit consists of a light blue and white quartered shirt and white shorts, while the away kit is black and gold with the same colours as the trim.[25] During the 2008–09 season a special third strip, which is black with a gold sash, and is a reproduction of the original Black Arab shirt, was used for a single match to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the club.[26]

Team colours on winning the Southern League in 1905

The team began playing in black shirts with a yellow sash from their foundation in 1883 as Black Arabs F.C. until 1885, by which time they were called Eastville Rovers. For the next fourteen years, until 1899, the team wore blue and white hooped shirts. These were replaced by black and white striped shirts until 1919.[27]

When Rovers were admitted to The Football League in 1920 they wore white shirts with blue shorts. These remained the team colours until 1930, when the colours were reversed to blue shirts and white shorts for one season.[27] The blue and white quarters were first worn in 1931, when they were introduced to try to make the players look larger and more intimidating.[28] Rovers continued to wear the quarters for 31 years until they were replaced by blue pinstripes on a white background.

1996–97 "Tesco" shirts

Over the next ten years, Rovers went on to wear blue and white stripes, all blue, and blue shirts with white shorts before returning to the blue and white quarters in 1973, which have remained the colours ever since.[27] During the 1996–97 season, Rovers wore an unpopular striped quartered design, prompting fans to refer to it as the Tesco bag shirts[29] because of their similarity to the design used for the company's carrier bags. The change in design prompted the Trumpton Times fanzine to change its name to Wot, No Quarters?[30]

The black and gold shirts were also used as the away kit for the 2002–03 season, the club's 120th anniversary.

In 2005, Rovers ran an April Fools' joke on their official website, stating that the team's new away strip would be all pink. Although this was intended to be a joke, a number of fans petitioned the club to get the kit made for real, and also suggested that funds raised through the sale of the pink shirts should be donated to a breast cancer charity.[31] Although the pink shirts were never used in a competitive fixture, they were worn for a pre-season friendly against Plymouth Argyle in 2006.[32]

A pirate features on both the club badge and the badge of the supporters club,[33] reflecting the club nickname of The Pirates. Previous club badges have featured a blue and white quartered design, based on the quartered design of the team's jerseys.

Kit suppliers and sponsors

Rovers first used an official kit supplier in 1977, and the club's first official kit sponsor followed in 1981. Rovers' longest running kit supplier is Errea who supplied the club kits for eight years (2005–13). The club's longest running kit sponsorship was from local company Cowlin Construction who sponsored the club for a total of 11 years before ending the deal in 2009.

The Cowlin deal came to an end during the late-2000s recession. Faced with the prospect of having no shirt sponsor for the 2009–10 season, the club came up with the idea of a raffle to raise the funds required. Tickets were sold at £1,000 with all 96 available being sold meaning the club raised £96,000 for one season of shirt sponsorship, more than some Premier League clubs. First prize in the draw went to local training and recruitment company N-Gaged whose logo appeared on that season's home kit. Second prize went to Bristol based solicitors Stevens, Hewlett & Perkins whose logo appeared on the away kit. The raffle proved so successful that the club replicated it for the 2010–11 season with Smart Computers becoming the new home kit sponsors and Stalbridge Linen the away sponsors. Despite initially planning to return to the tradition form of sponsorship, the club again ran a sponsorship raffle for the 2011–12 season. McCarthy Waste and ITS becoming the new kit sponsors. The sponsorship raffle continues to this day, however, with the plans to move to UWE Stadium, Rovers hope to attract a major sponsor once again in the future.

Period Kit Supplier Home Kit Sponsor Away Kit Sponsor
1977–1981 Bukta No sponsor
1981–1983 Great Mills
1983–1984 Toshiba
1984–1986 Hobott
1986–1987 Henson Peter Carol
1987–1988 Design Windows
1988–1990 Spall Design Windows Universal Components
1990–1992 Design Windows
1992–1993 Roman Glass
1993–1995 Matchwinner
1995–1996 Le Coq Sportif Elite Hampers
1996–1997 Cica Bradshaw's Snack Box
1997–1998 The Jelf Group
1998–1999 Cowlin Construction
1999–2001 Avec
2001–2005 Strikeforce
2005–2009 Errea
2009–2010 N-Gaged Stevens, Hewlett & Perkins
2010–2011 Smart Computers Stalbridge Linen
2011–2012 McCarthy Waste ITS
2012–2013 Opus Recruitment Solutions CR Windows
2013–2014 Eurocams Highspec Travel Services




Rovers play their home games at The Memorial Stadium in Horfield, a ground they share with Bristol Rugby Club. The team moved to The Mem, as it is known informally, at the beginning of the 1996–97 season, initially as tenants but purchased it two years later.[34]

When Bristol Rovers were known as Black Arabs F.C. in 1883, they played their home games at Purdown, Stapleton. The following year they moved to Three Acres, the precise location of which is not known, but is believed to have been in the Ashley Down area of Bristol, where they remained for seven years. This was followed by brief stays at the Schoolmasters Cricket Ground, Durdham Down and Ridgeway.

For the majority of their history, Bristol Rovers have played their home games at the Eastville Stadium, where they remained for a period of 89 years from 1897–1986. Financial problems led to the team being forced to leave Eastville, and they found a temporary home at Twerton Park, the home of Bath City. They stayed in Bath for 10 seasons, before returning to Bristol in 1996.

Rovers also played five home games at Ashton Gate, home of rivals Bristol City, following a fire which destroyed the South Stand of the Eastville Stadium on the night of the 16–17 August 1980. Rovers returned to Eastville in October 1980. During World War II, some friendly matches were played in Kingswood, and in their early history some games were played at Parson Street, Bedminster[4]

In January 2007 planning permission was granted for a new 18,500 capacity all-seater stadium to be built on the site of the Memorial Stadium.[35] Building work was originally intended to begin late in 2007, but a number of delays set the project back first until the summer of 2008,[36][37][38] and then until the summer of 2009.

Further delays meant that by 2011, the club had began exploring different options with regards to the future of the club's stadium. In June 2011, the club announced its intention to relocate the club to a new 21,700 all seater stadium, to be built on land at the University of the West of England's Frenchay campus.[39] To fund the project, the current site of the Memorial Stadium will be sold to supermarket Sainsbury's, who coincidentally already had planning permission to redevelop Ashton Gate Stadium.

In September 2012, planning permission for the proposed UWE Stadium was granted by South Gloucestershire Council. In January 2013, subsequent planning permission was granted by Bristol City Council for the building of a Sainsbury's supermarket on the site of the Memorial Stadium. This paved the way for the commencement of the proposed UWE Stadium at Frenchay. Construction of the stadium is due to commence in summer 2013.

Supporter culture

The team traditionally draws the majority of its support from north and east Bristol[40] and South Gloucestershire. Many towns and villages in the surrounding area are also home to significant pockets of Rovers supporters.[27]

The nickname given to Bristol Rovers supporters is "Gasheads".[41] "The Gas" was originally coined as a derogatory term by the supporters of Bristol Rovers' rivals Bristol City, and was in reference to the large gas works adjacent to the old Bristol Rovers stadium, in Eastville, Bristol which wafted the sometimes overpowering odour of town gas across the crowd.[27] "Gasheads" was adopted as a name by a splinter group of Rovers supporters in the mid-1980s to early 1990s. The chant "Proud to be a Gashead" spread to regular fans, and a fanzine was produced called The Gashead.

The term "Gasheads" is now universally accepted within the English media and football fraternity as referring to Bristol Rovers supporters.[42] After the club's relegation to Football League Two in 2001, the club designated the squad number 12 to the Gasheads to signify them as the club's 12th Man in recognition of their loyal support.[41]

In 2000 another splinter group of supporters came together. Known as the "Blackthorn Buccaneers" (old Tote End boys), their aim was to celebrate the maritime heritage of the city of Bristol, (birth place of 'Blackbeard') while identifying strongly with the swashbuckling pirate on the club's 1999 badge. The Buccaneers very importantly preserve an old oral tradition which had once existed wholesale among the fans of the pre gas era, (before the mid 1970s) that the pirate title had been inspired by both Bristol's link to the outlaw practice and by the publication of Robert Louis Stevenson's world famous story, "Treasure Island". What is so striking about this thought is, Stevenson had not only incorporated the famous old port of Bristol into his swashbuckling tale, but strikingly, the smash hit story itself had also been published the very same year as the club came into existence in 1883. The Buccaneers believe that the club gained its Pirate nickname the following year when the club became known as Eastville Rovers; very interestingly, the word Rovers in old Norse actually means the 'Pirates' and in later times the 'Sea Rovers' had been used as another term to describe those famous outlaws of the sea. The Blackthorn Buccaneers have always believed that this eye catching background, plus the colourful heritage of Bristol has never been spiritually or commercially exploited properly; a concept which which was already well in place during the clubs early years . All fans who follow this belief are freely called the Buccaneers. The group celebrates its existence at most games by the waving of a striking pirate flag and the wearing of all sorts of piratical items, like rings and T-shirts. At big games in the past, pirate costumes have been pressed into service to spot light the clubs glamorous, swashbuckling title and Bristol's rip-roaring, seafaring history. As far back as can be traced, the word 'Buccaneers' itself, was first used by Rovers supporters in an old fans song which dates right back to the 1950s. The group takes its name from the terrace formerly known as the Blackthorn End on which they stand at the Memorial Stadium.

In the British film Hot Fuzz Danny Butterman played by Nick Frost is seen wearing a Bristol Rovers shirt.[43]

Famous Fans

The following is a list of famous people who are said to be Bristol Rovers fans.

Club song

The song which is synonymous with Rovers is "Goodnight, Irene", which was written by Lead Belly.[44]

Opinions differ as to how this came about but it is thought to have become popular in the 1950s when a version of the song was in the British charts—the line "sometimes I have a great notion to jump in the river and drown"—seemed to be particularly apt when Rovers lost as the Bristol Frome flows alongside the old Eastville ground.[27] Another theory is that it was sung at a fireworks display at the Stadium the night before a Home game against Plymouth Argyle in the 1950s. During the game the following day, Rovers were winning quite comfortably and the few Argyle supporters present began to leave early prompting a chorus of "Goodnight Argyle" from the Rovers supporters—the tune stuck and Irene became the club song.[45]

Another popular Bristol Rovers song is "Tote End Boys", which was written and sung by Ben Gunstone. The name "Tote End Boys" derives from the section of Gasheads who stood in the Tote End terrace at Rovers' old home, Eastville Stadium.


Current squad

As of 12 September 2013 [46]

Where a player has not declared an international allegiance, nation is determined by place of birth.

No. Position Player Nation
1 Goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall      England
2 Defender Michael Smith      Northern Ireland
3 Midfielder Jim Paterson      Scotland
4 Defender Danny Woodards      England
5 Defender Garry Kenneth      Scotland
6 Defender Tom Parkes (Club Captain[47])     England
7 Forward David Clarkson      Scotland
9 Forward Matt Harrold      England
10 Forward Eliot Richards      Wales
11 Defender Fabian Broghammer      Germany
14 Defender Lee Brown      England
15 Midfielder Oliver Norburn      England
16 Midfielder Alex Henshall (on loan from Manchester City)     England
17 Forward Ellis Harrison      Wales
18 Forward Mitch Harding      England
19 Forward Chris Beardsley (on loan from Preston North End)     England
20 Goalkeeper Conor Gough      England
22 Defender Will Packwood (on loan from Birmingham City)     United States
24 Midfielder Ollie Clarke      England
25 Midfielder Seanan Clucas      Northern Ireland
29 Defender Mark McChrystal      Northern Ireland
30 Defender Tom Lockyer      England
31 Midfielder Shaquille Hunter      England
32 Midfielder John-Joe O'Toole      Ireland
33 Midfielder Alefe Santos      Brazil
34 Defender Pat Keary      England
35 Defender Josh Southway      England

The shirt number 12 is used by Gasheads to represent the fans as the 12th Man.[41]

For recent transfers, see 2013–14 Bristol Rovers F.C. season.

Out on loan

Where a player has not declared an international allegiance, nation is determined by place of birth.

No. Position Player Nation
8 Midfielder Matthew Gill (at Exeter City until January 2014)     England
23 Midfielder Jordan Goddard (at Gloucester City until December 2013)     England

Notable former players

For a list of Bristol Rovers players who have made at least 100 league appearances, see List of Bristol Rovers F.C. players.
For a full list of all Bristol Rovers players to be capped at full international level, see List of Bristol Rovers F.C. internationals.
For a list of all Bristol Rovers players with articles on World Heritage Encyclopedia, see Category:Bristol Rovers F.C. players.

This is a list of the most noted former players at Bristol Rovers Football Club, giving the period that each player spent at the club, their nationality and their reason for being listed. To be included in this list a player must have made over 400 league appearances for the club, scored over 100 league goals or hold a club record.

Note: all details from Byrne & Jay (2003) unless otherwise stated.
Years Nation Player Achievement Notes
1927–1947  England Jack Pitt Played 467 league games.
Spent over 50 years at the club as a player, coach and groundsman.
1928–1932  England Ronnie Dix The club's youngest ever player, at 15 years 173 days.
The Football League's youngest ever goalscorer, at 15 years 180 days.
1936–1956  England Ray Warren Played 450 league games.
1945–1955  England Vic Lambden Scored 117 goals in 268 league appearances.
1945–1962  England George Petherbridge Played 457 league games.
1946–1958  England Harry Bamford Played 486 league games.
1949–1964  England Geoff Bradford Rovers' record goal scorer with 242 league goals from 462 appearances.
The only player to be capped by England while at Bristol Rovers.
1953–1962  Kenya Peter Hooper Scored 101 goals in 297 league games.
1953–1968  England Alfie Biggs Played 424 league games and scored 178 goals.
1956–1973  England Bobby Jones Played 421 league games and scored 101 goals.
1959–1973  England Harold Jarman Played 452 league games and scored 127 goals.
1966–1980  England Stuart Taylor Played 546 league games, more than any other Rovers player
1981–1999  England Ian Holloway Named the fans' Cult Hero in a BBC poll. [50]
1987–1989  England Nigel Martyn Became the first goalkeeper to command a million pound transfer fee when he was sold to Crystal Palace. [51]
1992–2000  England Andy Tillson Record signing, and former club captain. [52]
1997–1999  Jamaica Barry Hayles Club record sale when he moved to Fulham for £2,100,000.
2000–2003  Latvia Vitālijs Astafjevs Most internationally capped Bristol Rovers player, with 31 appearances for Latvia while playing with Rovers 158 times. [52]

Club Staff

Current manager of Bristol Rovers is John Ward, he returned to Rovers in December 2012 for his second spell as manager.

Managerial history

As of September 2012, 31 men have been appointed as a manager of Bristol Rovers Football Club, excluding caretaker managers.[53][54] Bobby Gould, Gerry Francis and John Ward are the only men to have been given the job on a permanent basis twice, although Garry Thompson had a separate spell as caretaker manager before later being appointed permanently, and Phil Bater was caretaker manager on two separate occasions.

Youth Academy

The Bristol Rovers centre of excellence is associated with the Bristol Academy of Sport, located at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, which offers a college education along with football coaching.[55] With notable coaches such as Graham Muxworthy and Des Bulpin working at Bristol Rovers.Current squad members Ollie Clarke, Jordan Goddard, Shaquille Hunter and Eliot Richards all graduated from the Academy to earn a professional contract. Perhaps the most successful former member of the academy is Scott Sinclair, who was signed by Chelsea in 2005 for an initial fee of £200,000, with further payments to the club possible, depending on performance.[56] He currently plays for Premier League champions Manchester City. Chris Lines, who came through the Bristol Rovers youth academy, was sold to Sheffield Wednesday on 10 August 2011 for a fee of £50,000.[56]

Women's team

The club had a successful women's team, formed in 1998 as Bristol Rovers W.F.C. following a merger with Cable-Tel L.F.C.. This merger came about as Bristol Rovers only had girls teams up to the under 16 age group level, so when girls reached the age of 16 they were forced to leave the club. The merger with Cable-Tel meant that Bristol Rovers had a senior squad. The club's name was changed to Bristol Academy W.F.C. in 2005 to reflect the increased investment from the Bristol Academy of Sport. Though sometimes still referred to by their former nickname, the Gas Girls, Bristol Academy W.F.C. are no longer affiliated to Bristol Rovers.


Bristol Rovers Football Club has won the following honours:[57]

1989–90, 2006–07
1888–89, 1902–03, 1904–05, 1913–14, 1924–25, 1927–28, 1934–35, 1935–36, 1937–38, 1947–48, 1948–49, 1950–51, 1953–54, 1954–55, 1955–56, 1958–59, 1962–63, 1963–64, 1964–65, 1965–66, 1967–68, 1973–74, 1974–75, 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1984–85, 1988–89, 1989–90, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1994–95







External links

  • Official website
  • Bristol Rovers F.C. on Club statistics
  • Supporters club website
  • Vital Gas
  • The odd link between Bristol Rovers and the singer Leadbelly
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