Canvas opinion: The Leeds-supporting artist brightening up the streets around Elland Road


The works of the “Burley Banksy” have come under anonymous attack, but the support of the club and community have ensured his designs will remain part of the matchday experience

20 November ~ Electric boxes – it’s doubtful you, or anyone you know, has any strong feelings about them. Primary school teacher and part-time street artist Andy McVeigh, on the other hand, certainly does. He’s been daubing dull electric boxes around Leeds since 2018, replacing the lifeless green with vibrant Leeds United-themed murals depicting classic shirts, lyrics of chants and stencils of players past and present.

Popular with fans and residents alike, McVeigh creates his designs independently – he isn’t paid for his time or imagination – simply seeking to improve the aesthetics of his local neighbourhoods and honour his home club. “There’s virtually no Leeds United art anywhere in the city, which seems daft to me,” Andy explained. “Even in the City Museum there’s a pretty pathetic token gesture to the club when it’s one of the most famous things about the place.”

The murals leading to the ground have become part of the matchday experience for many, with fans such as Julian Lyons tapping the boxes for luck before each home game. Younger fans are also enamoured with his colourful compositions. “Kids love it, which is brilliant because I’m a primary teacher and had that in mind when I did them. One bloke told me his kids asked him to do a tour of them with him.”

In September this year, 14 of McVeigh’s murals were vandalised with black paint in the dead of night. Murals around Elland Road were targeted, including one dedicated to the late Gary Speed which was destroyed on the eve of his 50th birthday. A group of busybodies dubbed Leeds Residents Against Graffiti took responsibility for the mass vandalism, emailing the Yorkshire Evening Post to outline their dubious reasoning. Citing a lack of interest in football and claiming to “represent the 90 per cent of the citizens of Leeds who are not obsessed with Leeds United”, the group vowed to systematically cover up all of the football-themed boxes across the city.

McVeigh offered to sit down with his adversaries in an effort to build bridges but this was rejected, the group stating: “We have no interest in ‘having a coffee’ with this person. He simply needs to desist in his vandalism.” McVeigh recalls the devastation he felt when news reached him. “Obviously I was gutted. Each one probably takes two or three evenings to do. At my own cost. It was bewildering why someone destroyed them. A very ‘troubled’ person, I guess. The person responsible sent very sinister emails which were actually quite disturbing.”

Local fans were aghast at the senseless destruction of Andy’s quirky artwork. “The vandalism was nothing but targeted bullying,” states season ticket holder Jack Sanderson, who argues that the murals have become a symbol for the positivity returning to Elland Road in recent years. “The art itself is absolutely brilliant and an asset to the matchday experience. Projects like Andy’s have been a light in a very dark place, and Andy himself is absolutely golden too. He genuinely just wants to make people happy through his talent.”

The club and community rallied around McVeigh, fundraising to replenish his paint supplies and allow him a few days off to repair his artwork. Leeds United offered him and his son complimentary tickets for his efforts, and in a joint collaboration with Leeds City Council and Virgin Media commissioned McVeigh to officially decorate the electric boxes surrounding Elland Road. He’s since returned to his work, bolstered by the positive reaction of fans and neighbours alike. “Every time I’m out painting now, I get loads of people beeping horns, shouting encouragement, giving me the Leeds salute. Tons of people stop for a chat. The reaction was genuinely overwhelming. Sounds cheesy but it’s true. It’s like the whole city came together. Even people who lived in that area and don’t like football said they loved the art and were disgusted by it being vandalised.”

As official commissions, any further efforts to deface Andy’s art will be a criminal offence, effectively safeguarding his work for future generations of fans. I ask McVeigh if he has intentions of painting a promotion mural soon. “I’ve got a backlog of about ten ideas I want to do at the moment. But if we actually go back to the Premier League, that one will take priority. Please let us go up this time.” Joe Marczynski

Photo by Joe Marczynski

This article first appeared in WSC 393, December 2019. Subscribers get free access to the complete WSC digital archive – you can find out more here

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