Manchester United

Inside the rise of football street art

Goal English

In early April 2022, a new mural was unveiled in northern Leeds dedicated to progress towards LGBTQ+ inclusivity in football, and celebrating the LGBTQ+ fan group for Leeds United, Marching Out Together.

The mural depicts a peacock, an animal closely associated with Leeds United ever since the 19th century, with the Old Peacock pub sitting across the road from Leeds’ Elland Road stadium.

The male peacock with its rainbow plumage, as well as its accompanying “Marching Out Together” slogan, adorns the East Street Arts studio on York Road, and is designed to illustrate the union of football fandom and queer culture.

For artist CBLOXX, marrying those two elements was not something which came easily.

“Initially, I felt like I was hunting for the links between the two [football and LGBT+ people],” they said, speaking exclusively to GOAL. “This is from my own experience of not being a football fan and not feeling like there was space within it for somebody like me.

“The notion of visibility is paramount, it is the only way people who have any sort of phobias change their opinions.

“I came at it from an angle of wanting to create a piece of art that has a purpose, that marries these two worlds. This is something that is within football but is hidden – we still don’t have any Premier League footballers who are out, for example. It still speaks of a level of shame, and it is something we have to recognise.”

Despite originally being from Huddersfield, just a stone’s throw from Leeds and in the heart of the football-mad county of Yorkshire, CBLOXX – aka Jay Gilleard – found themselves struggling to accurately represent the true nature of fan culture in their art.

It was through working with Marching Out Together that they found a way of accurately represent what it means to be a Leeds fan and be LGBT+ – while evading some stereotypes.

They said: “I had to find a starting point that suited my visual aesthetic and could sit within my portfolio. I didn’t want it to look like an advert, I don’t feel comfortable with that, I wanted to honour each element.

“My starting point is always research, looking at the history and heritage of the club. I wanted the peacock as the centrepiece and then added other elements; there was a marching drum at one point, but then I checked in with the group [Marching Out Together] and they told me how they take the p*ss out of fans who use drums. I had to keep referring back so I didn’t run away with ideas of what football fans are supposedly like.

“I wanted it to be about celebrating who you are, and hitting on the peacock as something Leeds is so affiliated with, I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate.

“I also wanted it to be enjoyed by people who aren’t football fans; it’s about being proud of yourself, proud of your community, whatever it might be. It has to serve a purpose of uniting people.”

Having come out as non-binary in 2020, CBLOXX has a personal connection to this mural too, with it helping to represent their own journey from someone who would actively avoid football as a child to someone who, earlier this season, finally attended their first ever fixture,

“We are seeing growth and progression within football – growing up as a kid in the 80s, I think if football were more diverse and celebrated the way it is now, I would have embraced it a lot more,” they say.

“I’m from Huddersfield, and my association with football as a kid was to stay out of town on match days, there would be fights everywhere – I never felt I had a place within it. That is now being addressed, there is a different vibe, but there is a lot of work to be done.

“One thing that has kept me going has been meeting back up with MOT – I got to see some football [Leeds’ 1-1 Premier League draw with Southampton], it was my first ever match. I missed the Southampton goal though as I was getting a pie – I have my priorities!

“I came out as trans at the beginning of the pandemic, and went on this weird isolated personal journey, but while that was happening this job came in, so I have a personal connection too.”

The piece was a labour of love for CBLOXX, involving more than 100 cans of spray paint and a constant battle over weeks with the inclement and indecisive British late-winter weather – not to mention technical and mechanical difficulties.

They said: “It’s been a good year. We’ve been trying to organise getting this together – we tried to schedule …

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