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Two Countries Separated By A Common Love of English Football

atlantic ocean1 Two Countries Separated By A Common Love of English Football

We often hear how technology and globalization have brought the world closer together. The Premier League is a perfect example of this. Soccer fans can watch matches live and debate it with other fans around the world on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, instant messenger or various forms of other media. The bond that keeps globalization together and makes it relevant is a common interest. In this case, soccer. And to be exact, the English variety.

However, globalization threatens to change a pastime that is near and dear to their heart of Englishmen. It’s happening already. Since the launch of the Premier League in 1992, England’s top flight has rapidly changed into the world’s league. I argue that it’s no longer an English league. It is by sheer geography. However, at the same time, it’s a league that has been transformed by foreign owners, foreign players, foreign TV rights pumping money into the club and, most importantly of all — a rabid fanbase of millions of soccer fans around the world who support Premier League teams with a passion that exceeds those of their local club teams and, in some cases, even their own national sides.

With globalization, we have blogs like this one and hundreds others which discuss the game of English football in infinite detail. But, for the most part, the Brits who visit this site are mere passengers as they peek inside and see the thousands of soccer fans debating their league.

For some Englishmen, it must be a strange phenomenon to see their league, the league from their own country, being “taken away” and hijacked by other countries. Think about it. In England’s past, the concept of a pre-season tour by most English clubs often involved a tour of several lower division grounds in England before the season started. Nowadays, most Premier League clubs play the vast majority of their friendlies overseas in front of capacity crowds in Asia, Africa and North America. And where this summer will most of the top teams in the world be playing in pre-season tournaments? The United States — where the World Football Challenge will feature Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Juventus, among others. Soccer fans in England can only dream of seeing clubs like that in the summertime.

All of this brings me to my main point. Whether we love music, books, food, politics, sport or other interests, soccer is one of those few things where we can all congregate online and discuss the same topic in the comments sections of websites with our strangers and friends from the United Kingdom. We may love a British rock band or something else English, but soccer (and specifically the Premier League) is going to be the topic that we share in common with the most number of people Stateside and in Britain. There’s nothing else bigger.

It’s no wonder then that we do see some clashes in the comments sections of this site and others. Many Brits who post in the comments section seem to be on the defensive when they try to defend the England national team or under-21 performances. Some interject their own ideas, stories and thoughts about the league or a specific club, but it’s still a relative new phenomenon that Americans and Brits mingle together in cyberspace and discuss their game. I’m sure some Brits feel protective of their league. And they may not like the idea of seeing how it’s becoming less English and more American in terms of how the clubs are conducting business, improving how their club commercial departments are run and being owned by more Americans. I sense the hostility and frustration that they feel. After all, the English game has been in existence for 123 years (since the Football League was founded).

It’ll be interesting to see how the discourse among Americans and Brits changes over time in the next few years. Will many Brits finally be ready to respect the knowledge of English football that many Americans have learned in recent years that often parallels or exceeds what the average British football supporter knows? With the sheer amount of football matches on television and the Internet available to soccer fans in the United States compared to the relatively tiny number in England, will more Brits begin to turn to American sources – such as blogs and podcasts – for news on their league? After all, who better to comment on the Premier League than pundits who get a chance to see more complete games instead of a inadequate highlights package each week.

Whether Brits and Americans will congregate more on online sites in the future will be interesting to see. Or, they may end up going into silos where Brits visit British-based football sites, while Americans – for the most part – will visit sites that feel more American. We all share the same common language but there are distinctive differences. Where it will lead us we will have to wait and see.

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About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

33 Responses to Two Countries Separated By A Common Love of English Football

  1. MG says:

    I don’t think there should be any kind of ‘seperation’, at all, and I also don’t think that the British should feel threatened, or feel that their league is being ‘taken away from them’. It’s still your league more than any other Americans in the sense that it’s YOU guys that grew up with it, it’s YOU guys whose culture and population largely revolve around the sport. America (like Japan, South America, countless other countries in Europe, Australia, etc) are just merely peering in and appreciating, enjoying and, in most cases, loving your league. We mostly acknowledge that it is YOUR league, we’re not forgetting this fact or hijacking it, so to speak.

    It disappoints me, though I can somewhat understand it, when Englishmen become defensive and/or spout cynical statements and stand on a very judgmental point of view. It doesn’t have to be that way. Judge accordingly. Don’t lump all Americans into the ‘bandwagoner who doesn’t know anything’ pile. Just be smarter and HELP us enjoy your league more if someone might not be so knowledgeable as you are.

    Look at it as people getting into the Premier League, yes, technically, because of the TV contracts and advertisements and media increase as opposed to the old First Division, but also because we too realize just how incredible your brand of football is, just how exceptional it is. There is no need to have your defenses up. This will sound corny as hell, but let’s hold hands, not turn away from each other.

    (Appreciate this article, though, Gaffer. It needed to be written.)

    • Gaz Hunt says:

      I understand both sides. Calling an American that watches a club year upon year regardless of league or position a glory-hunter is silly. At the same time, there’s a reason this stereotype has developed with Americans – having so many watch the sport for a year and then decide to call themselves United supporters is frustrating. It happens – a lot.

      It will take time for English supporters to come to grips with foreigners “picking” a side. They’ll get there but you have to understand where they are coming from too.

      Wouldn’t (don’t) you feel a little the same?

      • MG says:

        When you say ‘both sides’, surely you’re not including about the cynical, unnecessarily threatened and judgmental side, are you?

        “At the same time, there’s a reason this stereotype has developed with Americans – having so many watch the sport for a year and then decide to call themselves United supporters is frustrating. It happens – a lot.”

        I have a problem with this quote. If someone began watching the Premier League a year ago and have enjoyed watching and rooting for Man United, then by definition they are supporters. CLEARLY, and it’s strange that I feel like I have to point this out, these people are NOT English.. CLEARLY, they are Americans. They can’t and will never be supporters in the Mancunian or English sense of the word. They should NOT be treated as if they can ever attain this level, no matter how many years they have or have not been watching the league. What matters is if they truly love the sport and truly love the team, and if they so happen to have read up, and watched as much United (in terms of the club’s history and past matches), then that makes them that much more respectable. The people you seem to be referring to are people that call themselves United ‘supporters’ but hardly know anything about the sport or the club and are just ‘supporting’ them because they win all the time.

        As I said in an earlier post (incidently also about United fans, American or anywhere: http://epltalk.com/california-dreaming-how-i-became-a-manchester-united-supporter-32303#comment-278619), there is a distinction to made and it’s best to learn how to make it. I’m not even a United fan, I’m an Arsenal fan and whenever this kind of frankly disrespectful kind of attitude comes up, I always think of a man I met several months ago who was middle aged and noticed me with my Arsenal shirt on. He asked whether I was a SUPPORTER (without knowing how many years I’ve been watching, because it doesn’t matter) and I answered yes. He told me he grew up a block away from Highbury and have been watching the Gunners since he was 7. No sense of superiority (though the fact that he’s clearly been a fan considerably longer than I have goes without saying), no elitism, no condescension. Just a man who was happy and friendly enough to accept me as a fellow fan. THAT, as an American, is the kind of attitude I expect from Englishmen.

        Sorry if the passion in this post sounds like I’m excusing you. I just need to make my point clear and I stand by it and will continue to stand by it.

        • IanCransonsKnees says:

          “No sense of superiority (though the fact that he’s clearly been a fan considerably longer than I have goes without saying), no elitism, no condescension. Just a man who was happy and friendly enough to accept me as a fellow fan. THAT, as an American, is the kind of attitude I expect from Englishmen.”

          I’d imagine that’s the reaction you’d get from the majority of english supporters. My team has a significant foriegn following and has done since the 1970s. Amongst our fans they are revered and rightly so. Tey may only attend once or twice every season or two but to make that pilgrimage takes sacrifice from somewhere else in their lives. Be it a holiday on a beach, upgrading the car or just living it up a bit more, they all miss out to spending a few days in a run down, industrial, northern english city.

          Must be mad.

          • Junt says:

            Spent a day in Stoke this past month on my way down to London from Manchester — hadn’t been before. Absolutely loved it — you have yourself a great city. I should be back in August for Scholes’ testimonial match and am trying to work some time out to stop through again.

            And for what its worth — some of the most legit, dedicated and loud support.

        • Gaz Hunt says:

          I am very accepting of new supporters. I hope I didn’t come off as judgmental. As an expatriate, I’m always happy to see fellow fans of the sport. I just can understand the frustration.

          “What matters is if they truly love the sport and truly love the team, and if they so happen to have read up, and watched as much United (in terms of the club’s history and past matches), then that makes them that much more respectable. The people you seem to be referring to are people that call themselves United ‘supporters’ but hardly know anything about the sport or the club and are just ‘supporting’ them because they win all the time.”

          I think maybe we’re coming from the same place. Probably my mistake and I wasn’t clear in my short post.

          Even English people “pick” a side sometimes (like myself) but the important thing, as you said, is that you become a supporter for life and take the time to learn.

          I don’t get too upset about it but I can understand how frustrating it must be to some. Not all Americans are glory-hunters but the stereotype is there because it is present.

          Don’t pretend this is something unique to English football either. Go tell everyone that you became a Giants or a Packers fan this season and you’ll hear the same groans and see the same half-smiles.

          • MG says:

            Yeah, I misunderstood you. It appears we’re on the same page. And like you said, I can’t ignore the English point of view and there are cases were there is a certain frustration over a globalization or cheapening, so to speak, of the sport. That’s understandable for sure.

            Cheers.

  2. Troll? says:

    Just my opinion but I don’t find these summer tour friendlies very appealling and don’t believe that soccer fans in England are envious either as their level of significance is comparable to that of international friendlies. They are scrimmages essentially…..where managers have the opportunity to test out young and/or new players.

  3. tonyspeed says:

    I say, if you feel uncomfortable with being told you don’t know anything about FOOTBALL, then maybe you don’t know anything about FOOTBALL. Someone who knows and understands FOOTBALL doesn’t need to be defensive and uptight. It doesn’t even have to be discussed. If someone told you you were an alien from Mars, would you get uptight and pissy?

  4. Gaz Hunt says:

    “Will many Brits finally be ready to respect the knowledge of English football that many Americans have learned in recent years that often parallels or exceeds what the average British football supporter knows?”

    I’m generally with you, Gaffer, but that’s a hugely unsupported statement.

    You’re just talking about a very small population of Americans. In contrast, I attend MLS matches regularly and, trust me, the average American is still coming to grips with the rules of the sport. The average English person is immersed in the game so much that they gain a good knowledge just by proximity.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Gaz, I agree with you that the Americans who are more knowledgeable about English football than the English themselves represents a small percentage. But I think a lot of Brits paint Americans with the same brush and think they don’t know anything about the game.

      The more Brits come into contact with Americans who know a lot about the game will help diffuse the stereotype. The same applies to soccer fans from other countries too other than the United States.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  5. David says:

    It’s very common for people who regard a sport as “their own” to believe that outsiders know very little about the sport or that they should even have an opinion about anything to do with the sport. I know of many Americans who feel this way about basketball. I’m sure it’s the same with baseball and football too. So this is nothing new.

  6. JUNT says:

    It doesn’t particularly help the US argument when you’re reading stories posted by writers detailing how they arrived at supporting the club they support by looking at a FA map of England and choosing a team based on league position vs the team their friends support… or how through slumps they chose to focus their attention/support on another team that may be doing a little better/be easier to be excited about.

    I can’t count the number of UK transplants I’ve met who automatically assume that as a United supporter from the US, I just bandwagon’d on to the United train in the last 8-10 years but after 5 minutes of talking back and forth come to learn that I grew up under 2 grandparents from Manchester (Salford) and a father who was brought up supporting United and that I may in fact know what I’m talking about and may even have a legitimate emotional connection to supporting United.

    The stereotype will probably never go away. People (all) are entirely too stubborn and I (personally and with good reason/understanding) think that most (and this may be generous) English/British/however you want to categorize supporters sometimes make a decent point. But you’re dealing with someone who is part of that culture and part of that society and understands the geographic and social class (probably dated) rivalry associated with clubs and their connected cities and towns and in some cases neighborhoods. I understand the “it’s just a game” outlook — but to some it is more and I think that is where the “plastic,” “gloryhunter,” “United? Must be American” mindset comes from.

    Sorry to stay United-centric. That is my view though. I will say that trying to hold a conversation with 90% of the MLS watchers I know about the game itself, let alone real, applicable topics regarding the EPL (won’t take it as far as the Championship and Leagues 1 and 2 and beyond) is more often than not painful.

    • MG says:

      “It doesn’t particularly help the US argument when you’re reading stories posted by writers detailing how they arrived at supporting the club they support by looking at a FA map of England and choosing a team based on league position vs the team their friends support… or how through slumps they chose to focus their attention/support on another team that may be doing a little better/be easier to be excited about.”

      If this is the majority, than that’s a shame, but you must keep in mind that not everyone is like that. That probably goes without saying, but it still must be said. There ARE examples of American United fans that love the club and have a respectable, or rather sufficient, knowledge of the team and, most importantly, actually support and love the team. The same goes for Barcelona and Real Madrid and Ajax and Milan and Celtic etc etc etc fans.

  7. IanCransonsKnees says:

    Couldn’t care less to be honest.

    Please send us more of your Yankee dollars, we don’t know what to waste it on next -http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/sport/football/3640225/Ibrahima-Sonko-I-got-20k-a-week-for-doing-nothing.html.

    I’m the one who gets to sit in my seat at my club’s stadium using my season ticket to see the stars who play for my team and the other 19 teams in the flesh. I’m the one who gets to sit next to our Chairman’s nephew and get snippets of info about what’s going on that no one else does. I’m the one whose parents in law live next door to the club kitman who sorts me out with signed merchandise, pictures and matchballs.

    Providing they stay in the Premier League I’ll be the one at the 150th anniversary celebrations for my team in the 2012/13 season. The oldest in the Premier League, the second oldest in the world.

    I’m the one with the opportunity to travel the legth and breadth of the country, to rack up further grounds towards doing the full 92 that I’ve seen my team play at (I’m up to 62 so far). Being no more than three hours away from either end of the country means I can see my team play anywhere I want.

    I’m the one that’s seen my team win at the Millenium Stadium and at Wembley old and new.
    I’m the one who doesn’t get ripped off paying to watch my team play meaningless friendlies at half pace, cashing in on the foriegn currency. I’m the one who benefits from all the foriegn investment by making my league the most successful.

    I’m the one that can follow my team on its European tour next season, probably only to Rhyl, but at least I can do it.

    I’m the one who understands idiosyncratic rivalries that you’ll only be aware of if you know the ins and outs and the ups and downs of the teams, leagues, managers and players.

    I’ll debate football with anyone and fair play to you for your support but discount the support outside the Premier League at your peril. There are 72 other professional clubs in England all with meaning to hundreds of thousands of fans. The Championship is the sixth biggest league in europe (in terms of revenue). Football drives at least 50% of the media in this country if not more, there’s a reason for that and it’s not because we all want to know who Ryan Giggs hasn’t knobbed.

    Finally as I type this looking out of my bedroom window I can see my football team’s home ground even making out the pitch and the ‘away’ end goal. You’re right football is a global game but from my point of view I’m the one deriving the most beneifit out of its explosion in popularity. I think I’ll settle for my lot.

    ps I couldn’t care less about England, lazy wankers.

    • Guy says:

      As always, ICK, I enjoy your posts. Nothin’ like being there. :-)

      • IanCransonsKnees says:

        That’s what I don’t get when people turn their noses up at MLS and USL teams. If they’re in your area take part and experience football in 3D. Football in the flesh at any level is far better than experiencing on a screen, positively souless in comparison.

  8. Taylor says:

    Gaffer,

    The respect will come if American fans can show their true passions and knowledge. Unfortunately, in this era where almost everyone can write, it’s really frustrating to see the level of knowledge of the writers (who are either americans or wrote in American-run blogs/websites) and these blogs might get a lot of exposures to the British.

    Just went to a quite popular website and the writer wrote about the Top 10 Man United transfers and it was clear he either only watched the last several years or add the info from wikipedia. One of the reader commented where were certain players (from the 80s and 70s) and the writer replied “I have to be honest with you that I never heard any of them”. I was really disappointed but at the same time: I couldn’t blame the writer: anyone can write, anyone can trumpet what he/she knows and there are avenues to do so. Unfortunately, these are the type of “supporters” who give American fans a bad name. Fortunately, this situation is not limited to American fans: with the advancement of technology, I’ve seen similar situation internationally.

    JUNT also said it perfectly that it doesn’t particularly help the US argument when you’re reading stories posted by writers detailing how they arrived at supporting the club, which mostly based on “criteria” (especially the team has to be winning) or for me personally: “you have to pick a team to be called a fan” or similar debate to that. (I have no qualms with people supporting United or chelsea, etc if that’s their first exposure of EPL. Some of us did: we watched certain clubs regularly and we grew to love them.)

    One thing this site and other internet blogs can do is to be selective: publish smart articles, analysis, news, etc instead of a transfer gossip / analysis that is generic; encourage everyone to be positive instead of negative. (I understand that you don’t want discourage people to contribute, on the other hand but I can see some articles could turn off the British or other knowledgeable fans)

    • The Gaffer says:

      Taylor, good feedback. We always try to maintain the highest standards as well as encouraging people to be positive in the comments section. It’s not easy publishing smart articles 365 days a year, but we try our best. At this time of the season, transfer stories are the most important things happening right now, so for us to ignore them would be doing a disservice to the readers.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

    • MG says:

      The line about that one guy/girl not knowing the players from the 70′s and 80′s and how that makes him a “supporter” (in quotations) is pure elitism. This is what I don’t understand. Just because he started watching last year or two years ago and isn’t English so he didn’t grow up with the sport and so it’s expected that he uses Wikipedia for reference etc, just because of this that makes him/her a faulty fan? I ordered my team’s ‘Official History’ DVD from the internet and have watched and read numerable information on the team, so I’m as well versed on their history as an American can be. But that’s my prerogative.. Not everyone will feel the need to delve deep into their club like that and following them in the present is what matters (and it IS truly what matters..) Being a FAN is what matters.. Some may be as vapid as you assume they are, but some won’t be. Try being a little less judgmental. For most Americans, it is merely a game, not a way of life like it is in places like Europe and South America. It’s meant to be enjoyed.

      I understand that some do not give the best impressions, but try to shine the spotlight on those that do.

      • Taylor says:

        As I wrote, I was disappointed but I couldn’t blame him. Everyone can write now and this is the era where anyone can write a blog and get exposures.

        For me, it’s the title that, if I were a judgmental fan, struck me. Some people would probably less judgmental if the writer said “the best Transfer I’ve Ever Seen in the last 20 years” or so , but this is something that could make our brothers across the pond cringe because this writer could be interpreted as a “I know everything” fan.

        Like you said in your next post: judging fans based on this blog is just foolish and I agree with you. Unfortunately, this is the nature of a lot of people.

  9. Jason says:

    Define American.
    If someone came to this country at an early age and has lived here for 25+ years does that make him/her American? Is it citizenship? Or?

    The silent majority of EPL fans do not contribute to any soccer forum. That is true of fans of any sport. Therefore to generalise based only what is written on this site or others like it is wrong.

    • MG says:

      Precisely. Judging fans based on this blog is just foolish. You can make one on one connections, but generalizations will more often than not fail to follow through.

  10. The Gaffer says:

    One thing dawned on me today. I wonder how most Brits became a supporter of their team initially. For example, Americans are often criticized for picking a team. But I’d argue that in many cases, the same thing is done in Great Britain too, albeit at a much younger age instead of in adulthood.

    Yes, some football supporters in England would have had the good fortune (or misfortune) of having a team handed down to them from their father or grandfather. But if not, how else does a Brit pick a team? Is it not a similar process to how American ones do it? Watching a team on television and liking them for some surreal reason.

    Just because many English football fans have been supporters all their life doesn’t mean that it was a god given right that the team was handed down to them. They had to make a choice in the beginning, but what was it? And if we examined it, maybe we’d realize we have a lot more in common than we think.

    For me, I was very lucky that one of my best friends had a father who took his son to Swansea City matches. And one midweek night, they invited me to go along. My family wasn’t (and still isn’t) into sports, so if I hadn’t gone to watch the Swans that night, I may have ended up picking a team for a completely different reason.

    I’d be interested in hearing from some Brits on here how they picked their team.

    Cheers,
    The Gaffer

  11. tlas says:

    One theory about American supporters is that they tend to latch on to foreign teams as a way of coping with the fact that soccer is still one of the most hated sports in the country. It’s like hanging on to a buoy when your boat is capsized.

    In the American sporting universe, soccer takes a tiny sliver of the pie. Of that slice, it is divided between domestic league fans, domestic fans of foreign leagues and immigrant fans. Many times, those three groups despise each other. Meanwhile, anti-soccer sentiment in the big media, new media, fans, etc., hang over them like the Sword of Damocles, threatening to cut off all legitimacy and growth of the sport over the long term. This is what is being dealt with here.

    I read one post at another board from someone who said that he hated soccer until he started catching EPL games on television and then became a fan of one of the teams. His perception of the game probably was based on reading what others said about the sport and, perhaps, bringing that bias towards the domestic league itself. It’s no wonder that the sport won’t achieve any legitimacy for years to come.

  12. StellaWasAlwaysDown says:

    I’m always surprised at how many articles and discussions occur on this topic. To me, it doesn’t matter if Americans love soccer – as long as I have the EPL/Bundesliga/Serie A to watch I’m fgood. I don’t believe soccer will ever break the top 4 sports here, even though there are people dying for it to out there, and I’m fine with that. I would rather soccer stay ‘English’ and not become Americanized or even bastardized ala the MLS. Americans are so frothing at the mouth for a great American soccer hero that it’s ridiculous.

    As for knowledge, it’s so highly subjective and there will always be a pissing match between people who feel that you must know every little in/out of the sport to be a true fan and vice versa. In the end to me, just ask yourself – do you ENJOY the match you are watching? If you answer ‘Yes’ then no need to say any more.

  13. JamesMcGlynn says:

    Hi – this is my first post.

    I started reading this forum coz it makes me proud to see other countries and cultures embracing our sport.

    I dont remember ever deciding to support Everton. I dont remember there ever being a time when I didnt support them. I grew up in liverpool and my dad is a blue and my mum is a red. my youngest brother supports everton and the middle one liverpool.

    One thing I will say is that I am a football fan first – and an everton fan second – my love of the team grew from my love of the sport – when everton were in Europe I missed watching a few games as they clashed with my 5-a-side league. I think that aspect of it is not always there with fans from America who see the premier league as the pinnacle of the footballing experience. If all you are exposed to is the corporate overpaid corrupt and sometimes disgraceful premier league, then your experience of english football, and football in general, is lacking.

    I can only speak from my own experience – but I love everything about english football – frozen fields of mud at 8am on some rain soaked sunday in november kicking the hell out of all the other 12 year olds – the banter at school after the derby – collecting football stickers and having stacks and stacks of swaps – going to the games – especially the midweek games where the atmosphere in the ground is subtely different – the pies and hanging round after for autographs – being 2 points from relegation but beating coventry and sending bolton down (one of the best and worst days of my life). Im not a snob and Im not saying that you cant be a fan unless you have had those experiences – all I am saying is that I couldnt feel the way I do about my club without them.

    Having said all that I know that everybody has different experiences and what it means to support a club will differ vastly between supporters from england or america or wherever. Some crazy people over here prefer rugby.

    Thats just my thoughts… But I was lucky enough to grow up in a city with 2 top class teams (one distinctly more top class that the other bunch of overpaid dirty cheating thugs). I also wanted to say that I love the premier league despite what I said before. It has its flaws – but theres nothing in the world than can compete when it comes to passion, excitement and beauty. The season that arsenal did unbeaten – they played some of the most sublime football I have ever seen, and would give this current barcelona team a proper good game.

    I hope that made sense
    James

  14. world soccer says:

    I agreed with gaz hunt comment……………….
    —————–
    Sumanth

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