'You hope the good will win out' - Leeds United's Burley Banksy on battling vandals, city fame and art in lockdown

The Yorkshire Evening Post chat exclusively to Andy McVeigh, Leeds United's Burley Banksy...

Saturday, 23rd January 2021, 6:00 am
Andy McVeigh's Leeds United mural of Eddie Gray's iconic goal against Burnley.

There is something very Leeds about a local man with a knackered old van and some paint brushes finding city-wide fame.

When Andy McVeigh - aka Leeds United's 'Burley Banksy' - first had the idea to use his artwork to brighten up the streets surrounding Elland Road, mostly on telecommunication boxes, he couldn't have predicted what was to follow.

The people of Leeds in their very essence are hardworking and loyal, they don't look for handouts and do things their own way - characteristics which can be found in the city's football club since the arrival of Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa.

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It is no wonder, then, that a supply teacher from Burley has stolen the hearts of those across the community, by giving up hours of his spare time to bring the odd smile to the face of complete strangers, for nothing in return.

It has been a little under three years since social media was sent into a frenzy in search of a mysterious person responsible for paintings popping up in locations across the likes of Headingley, Kirkstall and Beeston.

Since then, it has been somewhat of a whirlwind for Andy, a man completely oblivious to the fuss he had created outside of his painting bubble.

An ode to Bielsa appeared, as did the club's famous anthem, along with murals in remembrance of players past and present who have donned the famous white shirt.

Pictures appeared online as fast as the artwork itself, until one day he revealed himself to the world.

"It's insane how my life has changed, as cliche as that sounds," he told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"I did it purely for my own enjoyment and I thought it would be nice for kids to see on the way to the match. I didn't even realise that people were taking note of them if I am honest because I didn't really do social media.

"When it started to take off it was a genuine surprise because you'd paint it, go home and kind of forget that everyone is actually going to see it.

Burley Banksy artwork near Elland Road.

"It's been very surreal at times. I've been on Match of the Day for example - what's that about? I've watched that since I was five."

Andy's artwork has seen him shake hands with Bielsa, paint a box for midfielder Kalvin Phillips and knock a drink out of daytime television presenter Lorraine Kelly's grasp.

The intention, though, was never anything more than to spend his free time doing something that aided his own mental health whilst bringing a bit of joy to fellow supporters of his beloved football team.

"I'll be out painting in the street and all I get is constant horns beeping and people shouting out car windows things like 'Burley Bansky... keep going!," Andy said.

Burley Banksy artwork.

"People jump out because they want a selfie with me which I find bizarre, so I just stand there like a lemon smirking away. A whole family stopped on Kirkstall Road when I was doing some work with the Leeds United Foundation.

"People always say things to me like 'you don't realise that it has cheered so many people up' and 'it makes me proud to be a Leeds fan and proud of the city'.

"I never know what to say to things like that. It's just me painting a box on a Tuesday night in Beeston, isn't it?

"It's nice that people really like it so I suppose it has achieved what I wanted to do. I love it when people send me pictures of their kids with them and they play 'spot the Burley Banksy' around the city.

"In a world of Donald Trump and Covid - if I can make someone smile even for half a second then that will do me."

The club rallied behind his cause, as did Leeds supporters all over the globe when some of his artwork was repeatedly vandalised last summer - a situation which led to Andy to briefly quit painting altogether.

Burley Banksy artwork.

Messages, though, soon piled in on social media - including from former Elland Road favourite Vinnie Jones - and a fundraiser was even set up to help pay for supplies so the damage could be fixed, with one fan donating anti-graffiti paint.

Other artwork such as tributes to the NHS and a 'Thank You Carers' mural have been permanently damaged, leaving Andy sticking to football only in selected areas around the city.

"I put my heart and soul into it and I spend hours and hours doing them - so sometimes it can get you down," Andy said.

"I got so many lovely messages saying to keep going and in the end you just hope that the good will win out over the bad.

"It sounds cheesy but complete strangers you have never met taking the time to message meant a lot to me. Some people go into detail about how they were sat in a traffic jam the other day and seeing one got them through that afternoon.

"It seems crazy, but it feels important to carry on for those kinds of reasons. You almost feel like you have a duty to keep doing it after that, trying to keep lifting the spirits of everyone in the city."

Andy has started selling some of his artwork on canvas' and t-shirts to fellow supporters due to demand while others have asked him to spruce up their shops and work vans.

During lockdown last year he worked on a huge 'Bielsa the Redeemer' mural with local artist Nicolas Dixon, based in Wortley, something he says gave him a real purpose amid the difficulties of daily life.

"I've got loads of ideas I want to do still in my little notepad," Andy said.

"I've been driving around picking places with the weather being so bad lately. Hopefully I can get back out and add more soon.

"I just hope that when someone is heading out to the shops or wherever and they might not be feeling fantastic with everything that is going on at the moment that they might cheer them up, even if it is just for five minutes.

"I'm just a bloke from Leeds who wants to make the place look a little bit better. That's it - there's nothing special about it."

Burley Banksy artwork.