One day, he decided — for reasons that he cannot quite remember — to expand his repertoire. He had always been fascinated by design, and he had always been captivated by the bold colors of Leeds’ uniform: stark white, a rich blue, sunshine yellow. Instead of an image, he painted the words “Until The World Stops Going Round,” a line from the Leeds United club anthem, on a telephone box.
He hit upon a theme. “Leeds United has a lot of great design in its history,” McVeigh said. He did another painting, of the club’s former player Gary Speed, who had taken his own life in 2011. And then another. Word of his work spread through social media. He was nicknamed the Burley Banksy, a tribute to a neighborhood contiguous to Headingley and the far better known hit-and-run street artist.
Encouraged, McVeigh started to think of a “pathway to the stadium, something for kids to ask their parents about to learn the history of the team.” And then, twice, his works were vandalized. After the second attack, a letter appeared in the local newspaper, the Yorkshire Evening Post, from a group styling itself Leeds Residents Against Graffiti, claiming responsibility for painting over the murals.
The group said it represented “the 90 percent of the citizens of Leeds who are not obsessed with Leeds United, and do not need to see public areas painted with these mindless slogans.” Sheer black paint, they said, “looks much more dignified than the childish scrawl of a man who should be old enough to know better.”
Though McVeigh believes the group was, essentially, “just one person,” it seemed to cement the idea that Leeds’s identity is not as bound up in soccer as, say, Liverpool’s, where far larger murals of Jürgen Klopp and Trent Alexander-Arnold have appeared in recent years, despite the presence of two teams in the city.
And then, much to his surprise, McVeigh found himself at the center of a cause célèbre. “The reaction was amazing,” he said. Strangers offered their support on the street. A raft of letters were written to the Post praising his work. The club, in conjunction with the local authorities, commissioned him to repaint the murals (which would, as commissioned artwork, make defacing them a crime). “The whole city was behind me,” he said.