Volleys, Blundstones and Thongs: Life in the Shoe-Wearing States

They’re beyond dreadful. Flat and offering less support than Chad Morgan opening for Metallica. The Dunlop Volley is a cultural icon, but podiatric nightmare, and I often wonder how Ken Rosewell wore them and still won all those tennis matches?

But spotting them about, they’re like the rarely seen old mate banging on your door with a six pack of Coopers. House painters love them. The herringbone tread must be superb if your day involves leaping up and down ladders, and cutting in around annoyingly ornate ceiling features.

I wore them at uni. A fine library shoe, they also performed exquisitely in the bar, especially on Friday nights when fifty cent schooners were on. The Volley was exceedingly valuable for sitting in the uni quadrangle as the morning sun streamed onto our youthful dials. About three times a semester and with eyes stricken by terror, my friend David would shriek, “Essay? What essay? Due at four today?”

They were also great as we plodded off to fourth year English, cruelly scheduled on Mondays from 4 – 8pm. At 8.01pm I’d point my HQ Holden southward, and with my old friend Jonesy co-piloting, navigate speedily if not unlawfully to the Botanic Hotel where we’d review the lecture’s major themes, or not.

But I couldn’t wear Volleys for sport. On the cricket oval I was a Puma Barbados man, and everything else apart from footy was handled by my Adidas Romes.

To my curious comfort I later met someone who actually wore them on the sporting field. For three seasons Peter and I played cricket together at Wudinna. A handy bat, and lively fieldsman, he was an accomplished first slip and stealthy patroller of the covers. One Saturday he arrived in a new pair, and I asked

“New Volleys? Where did ya get ‘em?”

“Town.” Adelaide was rarely called Adelaide.

“How much?”

“Fifteen bucks.”

I was surprised. “That’s a really good price.”

“They did me a deal. Because I bought six pairs.”

“Really? Why did ya get six pairs?”

“I reckon that should see me through to the end of my career.”

And I’m sure it did. Over the decades I’d imagine Peter in his shed, pulling down a box of new but peculiarly aged Volleys, brushing aside any resident Daddy Long Legs spiders, and with impish delight, sliding on the Dunlops for spring’s first cricket training.

But six pairs! What a visionary. Succession planning of the utmost order. Cricket Australia: phone this fella now.

I had mine on last Friday when the boys and I were at the park kicking their new Sherrin. They (the shoes, not the boys) are still terrible for this. However, as I later sizzled some sausages on the park’s free barbecue they became magnificent. My tong work was sublime, and I’ve rarely squirted sauce with such crisp authority. I thank my Volleys. They were always more Dean Martin than Dusty Martin.

*

They’d doubled in price. This was better than anticipated, but I did purchase my first pair of Blundstones from a rural supplies store in Kimba during 1993 for fifty bucks. Since then we’ve moved nine times across three countries, and they’re still travelling superbly, and remain as utilitarian as Mark Ricciuto, but with a mellifluous special comments voice.

A new job meant I had to buy some new footwear so I jumped on the tram to revitalised Adelaide menswear retailer, Trims. Where before I had no choice there are now multiple styles of Blundstones, catering from bushie to micro-brewing hipster. It was like buying a newspaper in London. You glance at the dozen or so front pages. The Times. The Daily Express. The Independent. And then, having scanned the alternatives, you buy the one you always get.

On the tram home I thought about my new boots and me. What might the next twenty-two years bring?

*

I know it’s feeble, but sometimes you just surrender. To make life easier. In Singapore, and surrounded by Americans, Canadians and Brits I started calling them flip-flops. It was just simpler. And now back home among the throng, and with spring making a few tentative squeaks, I’m reclaiming the word thong.

In various equatorial bars I’d try to explain for my global friends. But never with much success. “So it’s wrong to buy your mum a thong, but perfectly acceptable (if a little cheap) to buy her a pair of thongs.”

*

Late Saturday evening my wife’s Grandpop passed away. He was ninety. Not knowing either of my grandfathers contributed to him becoming a significant figure. For most of the twenty years I knew him he and grandma lived in Gympie on the highest hill in town.

We’d sit on their front veranda in the thick air, noisy with eccentric tropical bugs and their assorted clickings and whirrings. Geckos would scamper up and down the walls, while I’d gaze down across the houses on stilts and valleys so different from my dusty home town thousands of kilometres to the empty south.

With the exception of our wedding I only ever saw Grandpop’s gnarly hooves in slippers. Or barefoot.

A magazine columnist once described the non-Queensland parts of our nation as being, “the shoe-wearing states.” Grandpop reinforced this. His slippers were comfortable, but he also went shoeless partly because he didn’t care what those, “bloody wombats” thought. He’d always pronounce wombats with a deliberately long vowel and make it woombats. In the extended family it’s a term of fun and gentle mocking. Mostly.

And now he’s gone. He lived long, but it’s still sad.

*

The boys and I will continue to be bedazzled by Patrick Dangerfield’s seemingly irradiated footy boots. Before the season’s first lawn-mowing I’ll buy a pair of thongs, some double-bangers. For extra comfort and backyard safety.

Like a feisty yearling my new Blundstones will finally be broken in, and the Volleys, as always, will push me on into that bright, windy spring.

 

The author in his new (but time-honoured) Blundstones

The author in his time-honoured Blundstones

 

 

 

 

 

About Mickey Randall

Late afternoon beer, Exile on Main St playing. Sport like cricket, most types of football, golf, squash, horse racing. Travel, with Vancouver my favourite city, but there’s nowhere I’ve not happily been. Except Luton. Reading. Writing about family, sport, music, the stuff that amuses me. Conversation. Wit. Irony. McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, Barossa shiraz, Coopers Sparkling Ale. Jazz and especially Miles Davis. Lots and lots of music. I live in Adelaide with my wife Kerry-ann and our boys Alex and Max.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Why weren’t you kicking a Ross Faulkner?

    Green and gold or double blue trim on the Volleys?

  2. Mickey, much nodding of the head here.

    At my primary school about half the boys went shoeless (it was 1972-74) even on frosty mornings – and played soccer.

    I’ve lauded Volleys for years, across numerous platforms, but I also had the occasional pair of Romes – leather for wet weather and totally indestructible. Walked Europe in them one year.

    I’ve never believed in socks, or those mini sock liner thingos. So the Volleys have always been a little sharp (notwithstanding the vents created by wear (at little toe and big toe-nail). So my wife is very pleased that I have turned to Blundstones (following the lead of my brother who has lived in them for 25 years).

    Great piece.

  3. Ben Footner says:

    I can’t say I’ve ever witnessed sauce being squirted with crisp authority. It must have been very satisfying!

    I’ve just come back from a holiday in Cairns and can testify to not wearing shoes the whole time I was there.

    I discovered what must be considered the holy grail of thongs in the menswear store in Loxton about 6 months ago – a pair that were ‘blowout proof’! They were one piece moulded rubber items that I outlaid $30 for, pricey by normal thong economic indicators I’ll admit, but I consider them to be priceless and therefore money well spent.

  4. Rick Kane says:

    What an opening: “They’re beyond dreadful. Flat and offering less support than Chad Morgan opening for Metallica.” With an opening like that the story will tell itself. Great stuff Mr Randall. I haven’t worn volleys for a long time but for a long time before that I wore them all the time.

    Cheers

  5. E.regnans says:

    Love it Mickey.
    Adidas Rome wer always a bit too pristine for my tastes. But I recognise the sentiment.
    It was KT-26 for me.
    As functionally correct as the table-tennis bat, but with a far greater pong.

    We used to marvel at the grip.
    “You could walk on the ceiling in these.”

    Blunnies = the Melbourne Uni shoe of choice at PA’s, the Clyde and I presume Naughton’s (having not visited often on account of my lack of college-cred).

  6. Well Mickey all I can say is that I had a bad case of plantar fasciitis some years back that always flared up with my hi-tech athlete’s runners, but never with the Dunlops (which I still wear around the garden). However, the Blundstones come into their own around the camp fire at Stawell. They could also be worn under a tailored suit to the Brownlow I reckon.

  7. What a yarn MR!

    Personally I never leave home without the Rossi Mulga’s on the feet – a South Australian institution, no?

    I alternated between the Dunlop Volleys and KT26’s as a kid. I dreamed of the Adidas Rome’s. The Volleys for bumming around, the KT’s for running and school sports. There was an Adidas factory outlet in West Footscray – at the old Dunlop factory just next to the Western Oval, actually – so we’d lob off the train home from school, change at Footscray for the St Albans line and pick up the discounted KT26’s and Dunlop Volley’s there. Only the posh kids from Willi and Essendon wore Adidas at St Joseph’s.

    Footy boots were a different matter – always the discounted Adidas Broadfoot or Wedges!!! Accept no substitutes.

  8. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Brings back many squeaky memories of playing squash in the ‘Volleys’ Mickey. Great traction, poor ankle support. Happy memories of when I was younger and fitter!

  9. Grand stuff Mickey. I’ve always been a utilitarian shoe man. One for every day of the week. The same one. The Avenging Eagle has one for every day of the week, and 3 for days ending in ‘Y’. The choice would defeat me.
    School was volleys, with thongs for summer. Romes once I left school, they covered both the sport and faux hipster 1975. Leather seemed a big step up in class from canvas. Surely girls would go for that? Or at least I would look the same as every other bloke at the front bar of the Largs Pier on a Saturday night, so I was giving myself an even chance. Still waiting.
    Your mention of lawn mowers and parental advice got me thinking of dad’s sage advice to “always wear closed shoes” as he handed me the keys to the Victa rotary. I looked at his Volleys and thought “I’m sure they’d be lots of protection from steel blades”. Maybe they just hold the fragments in so the ED surgeons have some jigsaw pieces to work with? Fortunately never got to test my theory.
    Nowadays I have a pair of Adidas Gripmore black upper golf shoes that do Saturdays at Royal Maylands and weekdays scouring the streets of Fremantle looking for the homeless, indigent and mentally ill. Found Ross Lyon in a dumpster the other morning. All weather suction cap soles for navigating the river of tears.

  10. Until they put spikes in Blundstones, Adidas golf shoes will have me every time. Perfectly weighted. Pity the bloke wearing them can’t do them justice. {And I’ve worn them all – Niblick, Footjoy, etc]

  11. Love this one Mickey. I do have to pull you up on your use of the term flip-flops. The local slang here in Singapore is slippers (when you say grandpa wore slippers I presume you are talking Aussie slippers?). My kids didn’t even really know what shoes were until they started primary school. William is still coming to grips with having to wear socks.

    I have to say I envy your need for new shoes. Will miss you here come finals time. Hope you are all settling in well.

  12. Swish- we weren’t kicking a Faulkner for the same reason we weren’t dobbing a Burley or a Lyrebird. Untreatably awful. I’m currently in the double blues, but only because I couldn’t find the green and gold.

    JTH- The Romes went very well, and I see they’ve been reintroduced but as Roms. Did the city-state take Adidas to court? Within weeks of purchase my Volleys blew out on the little toe. Still don’t understand why this occurs.

    Ben- congratulations on your recent thongs purchase. In Search of the Eternal Thong would be a great documentary, if only Bud Tingwell were here to narrate it.

    Rick- you know I reference Chad with the highest possible regard. But I think my point stands!

    E.r.- the KT-26 (what did this actually signify?) has had an army of fans over the journey too. Not a few third change bowlers among them as well.

    Dips- my new job requires a reasonable dress code and I toyed with various footwear options before deciding that new Blunnies would surely suffice.

    Stone Cold- Ah, the Wedges! Gee, Puma sold vast quantities of Grasscats too. I only wonder if it’s now possible to buy a pair of predominantly black footy boots!

    Phil- the last premiership I ever won was for squash! Happy days there. No trophies, but engraved pens for all.

    Peter- did you catch J. Barnes, I. Moss and co at the Largs Pier c.1975? If so, that’s a story surely worth sharing.

    JTH- The comfort offered by the golf shoe is connected to how well you’re striking the ball!

    Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting.

  13. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Bakes, Rossiters were also the makers of the famed Blue Star footy boots

    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/my-first-boots/

  14. Steve Hodder says:

    Dunlop Volleys? I wore both the green/gold and the blues all through junior cricket, from u/12s through to u/16s. Without fail, a week or two after the season they would split across the top of the toes. The ultimate seasonal footwear. No idea what I wore in seniors, but I played with a bloke who was a labourer and every Sat morning he painted his “steel caps” white, by day’s end the paint would all be cracked and peeling off. Eventually an umpire fined him $2.00 and he received a letter from the competition telling him not to wear them any more.

    Most of my fishing life I’ve worn Hornes waders. Imagine my surprise last summer when I was detaching the rubber boots from a pair that had one two many leaks and I read the logo on the boots as Blundstones? The rubber boots go on forever.

    My first job after leaving school was flogging footwear in PB Shoes. I always considered the Adidas Romes to be too white, too bright and too bloody expensive to be worn anywhere. I ended up buying too pairs of R.M Williams before they sacked me. The brown were $89.00 and the black were $93.00. I damn well nearly fell off the bar stool when I mate told me how much you pay for a pair of R.Ms now.

    Lovely read Mickey, made me feel all nostalgic and gooey inside.

    onya

  15. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great stuff Mickey Dunlop Volleys the shoes of choice of Bob Neil no less he got in at the casino on the Gold Coast with them on the legend at his brilliant best.I hadn’t seen any 1 in the dunlop volleys for a while when,Nick Gill arrived at the blacks it was great to see he was a faithfull servant,this article brought back some memories thanks,Mickey

  16. My view is the KT26s are for pensioners (fair dinkum pensioners, not superannuants) and Western Bulldogs supporters. They get a run in Round 1 2007 Footy Almanac – so the first round of the first ever Almanac. (From memory?)

  17. Peter Flynn says:

    Superb piece.

    Enjoyed reading the various attachments and memories through the lens of footwear.

  18. Rick Kane says:

    Yes Mickey, I absolutely got that. Chad rocks!

  19. Dave Brown says:

    Good stuff, Mickey. I may or may not have come into possession of a pair of red volleys with blue trim last year. They are used solely at the footy when a footy will not be kicked. Despite the restraint of trade the big toes are just about ready to push through the fabric. As a much younger person volleys were my cricket and tennis shoes. The shoe whitener would get a run a couple of times a year to bring them back to their former glory, such as it was. The feeling of walking on an asphalt tennis court on a 40 degree Adelaide afternoon in my volleys is something Nigel Smart would have an affinity for.

  20. Brilliant and visionary stuff, Mickey.
    Reflecting on life through the prism of footwear.
    Loved it!

  21. Hi Mickey.

    You CAN still get plain black Adidas boots. The Copa Mundials. They were originally released internationally as the Beckenbauer World Cup/Beckenbauer Libero (Hence Copa Mundial) You can probably grab these off the shelf at a Rebel Sport or similar, but even after paying for shipping from the US, you’re still about $80 ahead on local prices:

    http://www.eastbay.com/product/model:33626/sku:015110/adidas-copa-mundial-mens/black/white/?cm=soccercleats%5Fsportpage%5Fredesign

    The best boots I’ve ever worn.

  22. Michele Davis says:

    Love your work Mickey!
    I wore my (blue trim) Dunlop Volleys right through to my late 20’s, absolutely everywhere ! The fact that I had the big toe blow out wouldn’t stop me, I was attached to those holes! I had Adidas Romes, ( a bit boring) but the best ones were in Form 4, Upfield High ( my year away from Catholic Education, the year that ruined me according to mum) help me out here, they were Adidas I forget the name, black patent ( I know , flash as!) white stripes . Lasted all of 6 weeks, school, basketball etc. could afford another pair.
    Slippers, I remember your Grandpa wearing them to yr wedding , as your Best Man in Play On JTH.
    Now I have the plantar fasciitis too , Saucony, $220 thank you very much!

  23. Djlitsa- thanks for that. Grandpop wore Hush Puppies. Don’t they all? Enjoy the finals. Next time you’re in the Boomarang, or somewhere similar, have a beer for me! Just in the last few days my new Blunnies have commenced better behaviour, but gee, the old ones are still a treat.

    Steve- now you mention it, I recall the art of painting white sandshoes with that little brush. What was the name of that stuff? Agree that RM Williams were always aimed at an entirely different audience. Not me! Great recollections. Thanks.

    Malcolm- if Bob Neil wears Volleys then there’s their slogan. “Bob Neil wears Volleys.” Sorted.

    JTH- As familiar as I am with Volleys, the KT-26 remains a mystery, aside from being the shoe of choice for haunted-looking, skinny old blokes moving through shopping centres in a death-like fashion, as you suggest.

    PJF and Rick- thanks for your thoughts. Surely an All Volleys, All Paul Kelly listening, All Fat Yak Almanac function is on the horizon!

    Dave- you’ve reminded me that the Volley conducts heat in a way that would serve Bear Grylls well when he’s next sleeping rough in mid-winter Poland. Country tennis courts! Ouch.

    Smokie- cheers for that. Are your Kangaroos flying?

    SC Steve B- Beckenbauer! I remember seeing this on footy boots as a kid, and being mesmerized by the symbolism of it. The name was so intoxicatingly foreign and evocative. It was probably my first insight into the promise of European adventures.

    Michele- thanks for that. A common theme in this thread is that Volleys blow out early. In the toes. Why hasn’t the CSIRO fixed this? What are they doing? Just as wearing ugg boots in public represents a certain surrender, at which point is it allowable for an older person to head out in their slippers?

    Thanks to everyone for their thoughts.

  24. Luke Reynolds says:

    Green and gold trim DV’s throughout primary school, but never since. Might be time to go back.
    Can’t imagine wearing them for cricket. Puma Cell’s for hard wickets , Asics full spikes for turf ever since I’ve had to buy them for myself.
    And almost always Blundstone work boots for every job I’ve had since leaving school.
    Very entertaining read Mickey.

  25. Thanks Luke. It might nearly be time to introduce our boys to the wonder of the Volley.

    As an aside, I can’t believe the numbers of boys I see when I drop off our two at school who are wearing shorts. Despite the icy nature of the Adelaide morning. I love getting about in shorts too, but it seems to have grown exponentially in our short time away. Do we blame Sam Newman?

  26. Luke Reynolds says:

    Our boys in volleys-great idea!

    My 7 year old, in Grade 1, has worn shorts to school every single day he’s attended, despite repeated suggestions (requests?) from his parents to put on some pants. “Back in my day” I’d bring out the pants for at least June and July. Kids legs made of sterner stuff these days?? Global warming??

  27. Mark Duffett says:

    My 13 year old son wore shorts to school on the day it snowed down to sea level here a few weeks ago. Funny how things change. When I went to high school in Adelaide, you did *not* *ever* wear shorts, despite being nominally part of the uniform, even when it was > 40 degrees.

  28. Mickey Randall says:

    Thanks Mark. Clearly the dress-according-to-the-weather era is over. Snow on the beach? Ouch.

  29. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    If moccasins count as slippers, guilty as charged, when I pop down to the bakery at 6:45 for the day’s supply.

    A few weeks back when making a cheeky Coles run at about 8:30pm, my hasty choice of wool-lined footwear/tracky dack combo, coincided with me bumping into one of the neighbourhood AFL-playing locals, who now thinks that I’ve retired from the adult world and that I need my food cut up into small pieces. (Thanks Sam)

    At the other end of the scale – Ciaks, bring ’em back.

  30. Tom Martin says:

    Bob Neil still wears Volleys. He hasn’t donned the footy boots in a while.

    The Blacks’ very own superhero Captain Sapsasa fashioned a unique pair of footer-slippers in his secret laboratory and workshop, hidden deep beneath the Uni Oval grandstand.

    A pair of Volleys with sprigs, for playing football. When first trialled in a game they immediately demonstrated their superior performance. As if by magic, the wearer’s ability to kick the football suddenly mirrored that of Bob Neil in his pomp, with the typical punt being a twenty-five metre floater that would bewitch and bewilder the opposition player to whom it was inadvertently directed. Of course, it was a cunning tactical ploy when Bob did it.

    The Sprig Volleys are also famous for being the only items worn by Captain Sapsasa in the Uni Scum team photo later that year, when he appeared in full body paint, depicting the Blacks’ famous playing ‘strip’.

  31. mickey randall says:

    Swish- I wondered if the conversation would turn to Ciaks. I recall that these were popular for a few years, but were also terrible for footy-dobbing. I didn’t have a pair but am reliably informed. I guess your pair was biege?

    We were in England when ugg-boots began their Euro-invasion. Some of my then-colleagues seemed to hold me personally responsible for this. Harsh, but they probably also thought Jason Donovan was my fault too.

    Tom- superb details there. The Sprig Volley surely earns its place in various Halls of Fame. Would love to see a photo.

    Thanks men.

  32. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Was there another colour Mickey? I had both canvas and corduroy versions.

    Try here Mickey, for the post Volley sprig attempt.

    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/when-dunlop-volleys-just-wont-do/

  33. Neil Belford says:

    Primary school – bare feet in and out of school
    High school, volleys then mandated leather shoes, thongs out of school.
    Uni, first couple of years – volleys, thongs.
    Lived in Melbourne for a bit in 79. Discovered Blundstones, wore them home and was singlehandedly responsible for creating a market for this hitherto unknown shoe in WA.
    Have worn them ever since – but I have been a bit slutty sometimes and bought DM’s or RM Williams, stupid American things like Keens or Simple, or proper boots in Portugal; but Blundstones have been the constant.
    Went upmarket with Blundstone via the link on this page and bought a snazzy pair of Urbans which have green elastic, stitching and sole, but are otherwise uncorrupted – having been promised by the website that they are very popular in Italy and other such places. I could never understand how they failed to catch on in Rome back in 82 when I lived there for a while, I guess Italians are not as tuned in to style leaders like me as Western Australians are. Anyway am wearing said boots at work today and I can’t help noticing that everyone in this office thinks I am really cool.

    Seriously though – I don’t miss the Volley, and it always puzzled me why a half intelligent bloke like JTH would stick with them. Good to see even the most iconoclastic see the light sometimes.

  34. Mickey Randall says:

    Neil- that’s a rich recount of your life in footwear. Like many others, the Volley has played a significant role in your upbringing.

    Someone from your office just called to confirm that you are the coolest person there! Congratulations.

    Swish- Like the Ciaks, I didn’t have a pair, but Grosby Sportz?

  35. Steve Hodder says:

    Ciaks? Bloody Ciaks? They must’ve only been around a few years, during the early eighties, lasting only long enough to be lodged into the inky depths of some Almanacers’ recollections.

    What about Poland’s finest – Rollers?

    Re: shorts; yup back in the day only sooks and mummy’s boys wore them to school. If you matched them with white socks; well you were in for a hard day. One of my nastiest scarring moments of childhood was in grade 2, my mother would not see reason and I was sent to school in shorts, on a stinking February day. Throughout the entire school I could only find two other boy afflicted by similar cruelty.

    Now, teaching in freezing Lilydale, I see young men in Yrs 11 & 12 striding around in their wee tiny shorts and white socks. I presume their mums plead every morning for them to put on some long strides but do they listen to their mothers? No! This younger generation are off the rails.

    onya

  36. Steve- Ciaks and the Tropicals in long pant form enjoyed a very good fortnight as an ensemble in the early eighties. They peaked on the same day as Culture Club.

    Is the current trend for shorts in every season a sign of resilience or pig-headedness?

    Thanks.

  37. Steve Hodder says:

    Mickey, in the words of my 9 y.o. ” I don’t feel the cold… if long pants get wet they’re uncomfortable.” I’m backing herd mentality, both in our day and now in theirs. What ever everyone else is wearing etc.

    On another tangent; in your day were they called “sand shoes” (my mum), “sneakers” (me as a kid) and now “runners”?

    Not everyone can generate so many comments about “sneakers” (which eight say something about the demographics of Almanacers?) But again – beautiful piece!

    onya

  38. Sarah Black says:

    In a netball emergency (i.e I forgot my fancy runners and orthotics and had to run to Big W to buy a cheap pair), I had to wear volleys during a match – I could practically hear my physio, who has spent many hours working on my ankles, crying.

    But in terms of casual wear, I love my volleys (always with pink trim) in winter. Much more comfortable and less formal than women’s boots, and more socially acceptable to wear with jeans than runners! I practically spend all summer in thongs. Havianas are definitely the way to go, one pair will last me a couple of summers.

  39. Thanks Sarah. Netball in Volleys was a brave albeit unplanned move. Your knees would earn danger money for that!

  40. Poofta Bear says:

    They’re bloody great.

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