The Peacock - The Birth of a New Mural
Marching on together, were gonna see you win….We are so proud, We shout it out loud, We love you – Leeds Leeds Leeds!
So goes the chorus of the Leeds United anthem, sung proudly at each game, and the inspiration for the name of the Leeds United LGBTQ+ fan group – Marching Out Together.
Over the past few years Marching Out Together (MOT) has worked successfully with Leeds United to make Elland Road, and Leeds United as a whole, be more LGBTQ+ supportive and inclusive. We have acted as support for Leeds United LGBTQ+ Fans, and campaigned more widely on LGBTQ+ issues within football and the wider community.
So, why a mural?
There were three factors that inspired us to make this happen.
Firstly, anyone living, working, or spending time in Leeds over the last few years will have witnessed the emergence of several murals around the city dedicated to Leeds United, representing a range of images from our incredible Manager for three years, Marcelo Bielsa, to players such as Kalvin Phillips, Pablo Hernandez and Gary Speed. These are largely a response to success on the field and Leeds returning to the premiership, but they are also a recognition of the much deeper changes Bielsa brought to the club, and from there to the city, a return to having a club you could be proud of and therefore celebrate. As passionate Leeds United fans, that is something that members of MOT also wanted to rejoice in.
Secondly, and most importantly, we are very aware that in fighting for LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion visibility is key. That is why Pride exists as a march and why one of the major successes of MOT at Leeds United has been around that visibility – none more so than the Marching Out Together banner being prominently displayed at Elland Road at every game. However, we are also aware that not every fan can get to Elland Road and that we wanted to reach out to others in the LGBTQ+ community, and to the wider Leeds public, and show how things are changing, and that we and the club are celebrating LGBTQ+ fans of Leeds United.
Thirdly, we see this shift, from the club and the existence of MOT itself, as very much part of the positive changes that we see in Leeds as we do become the ‘Best City in the UK’ – none more so than in the further development of a range of vibrant cultures within Leeds and the ambitions of the Leeds Culture Strategy and the planned celebrations for Leeds 2023.
Crucially, once we had as a group decided to work towards having a mural, we knew we couldn’t do it on our own and wanted to work with partners to help make this happen. This started with a conversation with East Street Arts (ESA) who we approached because we knew of their strong focus on community and supporting artist led work. The fact that their Director is a Leeds fan may also have helped! We hoped that they could give advice on recruiting and supporting the best artist available, which they did. It was an incredible bonus when they also offered up the side of their studios, adjacent to the fantastic new Art Hostel as the space for the mural.
Jon Wakeman of ESA said “This is such a brilliant project for East Street Arts to be a part of. Especially in being able to offer up the site to celebrate the work Marching Out Together do in giving a voice to the LGBTQ+ community in Leeds and beyond. We have waited many years for the right project to come along that would do justice to the gable end of Patrick Studios and we will now have our very own building 'tattoo' to wear with pride for many years to come!”
We also wanted to work closely with Leeds United, to ensure they were very much part of the project, ranging from them giving us permission to use official club logos to gathering views from those within the club on the image, and to cement their support to promote the mural once completed, using their phenomenal reach.
This builds on our strong relationship with the club, including with the Chief Executive, Angus Kinnear, who said “We are delighted that this exciting Leeds United and LGBT+ themed mural will be appearing soon. It will be a very powerful and visible celebration of the diversity of our great fan base.”
We were ambitious from the start receiving a grant from Leeds Inspired was a major step, and we could add to that funding from MOT, especially through raffling/auctioning signed shirts donated to us from Leeds United, as well as in-kind contributions.
The first stage, once we had the funding secured and identified a wall for the mural, was to recruit the right artist. Working with ESA we produced an artist brief outlining our ambitions and what we would want from an artist, and incredibly we were able to attract Jay Gilleard, renowned international street artist, working as CBLOXX. Jay is best known in Leeds for their work, as part of NOMAD Clan, producing Athena Rising, the mural on the side of Leeds Railway Station, but they have produced amazing work across the globe. As a Yorkshire born, non-binary artist they met the brief perfectly.
As Jay says “It’s an honour to be painting back in a place I used to call home. Leeds has always rallied for liberalism, equality, and multiplicity, its cultural significance is something to remain incredibly proud of. Speaking personally, football at its very best is a cohesive healer when it champions diversity. Football signifies a unification, the Leeds chant ‘All Leeds Aren’t We?’ speaks volumes and is a wonderful sentiment to start ideas flowing around LGBTQ+ inclusivity.”
Next was to agree the design. We wanted Jay to hear the voices of Leeds fans and those associated with the club and particularly Leeds LGBTQ+ fans and the wider community. We sought out contributions through social media, had discussions with Leeds United, and held meeting with Jay with the diverse membership of Marching Out Together, all to help inform the work. Those contributions helped identify key themes that we wanted the mural to demonstrate, backed up through Jay’s own research into the history of Leeds United and, crucially, its identity.
Pulling all this together that Jay came up with the beautiful image of The Peacock.
Why a peacock?
For the non Leeds United fans ‘The Peacocks’ was the team’s original nickname, after the original name of Elland Road ‘The Old Peacock Ground’.
The expression ‘Proud as a Peacock’ also reflects the pride we are promoting for all LGBTQ+ fans and communities through Marching Out Together, backed with reference to the Leeds United Anthem, and the chant of ‘We are so proud’. But it goes beyond that, as The Peacock stands high in its prominent position, looking over at Elland Road in the far distance, it symbolises not only LGBTQ+ Pride, but also pride in Leeds United and pride in the beautiful city of Leeds.
As Jay says, “The core thematic of The Peacock really is pride, what is more sassy and full of pride than a peacock? Its otherworldly flamboyance, confidence and striking visuals made it a focal point no brainer. To convey the notion of activism, protest and visibility I borrowed aesthetics from the old coal mining embroidered flags, which echo the typical northern working-class heritage that is so often celebrated in my work.”
One of the significant benefits of producing a mural as an artwork is its extensive visibility and its legacy. In its position at the start of York Road, The Peacock will be passed daily by 68,000 people*. It is directly opposite the Department of Health building and the new developments south of York Road and will now be joining the other Leeds United murals in Leeds – which can be viewed as part of a brilliant virtual tour hosted by Leeds United Supporters Trust (with occasional actual tours pre game). The mural itself will be there for several years, and we are now working with Jay on using the image on a range of merchandise and promotional materials.
A huge thank you to Leeds Inspired for the funding, to Jay as the artist, to East Street Arts, to Leeds United and the many in-kind contributions and to all those who informed this work. As the song goes on to say…
“Everywhere, we’re gonna be there, we love you, Leeds, Leeds, Leeds!”
* figure courtesy of Leeds Highways