It wasn’t a John Atkinson Grimshaw, a Jacob Kramer or even a Damien Hirst. It was an Irek Jasutowicz.
Irek who? If you are a bit more hip than me – not hard, I realise – you will know the artist as Tank Petrol, a name inspired by Jasutowicz’s previous job of driving tanks for the Polish army.
Tank, as his friends presumably call him, famously painted a mural of Marcelo Bielsa on the side of a building in Leeds’ Hyde Park Corner.
The Leeds United head coach, or The Messiah as I like to call him, this week celebrated three years at Elland Road.
Arguably the most-influential manager of the past two decades, he has masterminded a remarkable transformation in the club’s fortunes.
I know I might have mentioned this before, but football has artistic value. Anyone who has watched Messi, Pele or Maradona play will confirm this.
Or, indeed, Bielsa’s Leeds.
It might not be your thing – you might even hate it – but you can’t deny that the so-called Beautiful Game is woven into a country’s cultural fabric.
It helps shape lives, cities, nations – the world. As Euro 2020 is once again demonstrating, it crosses national boundaries and has a direct impact on the way societies tell stories about themselves.
The current tournament is the first to be played at venues all across Europe. It is an antidote to the destructive divisiveness of the past few years and some of the virulent forms of nationalism that have appeared during that time.
As England manager Gareth Southgate wrote, in a wonderfully eloquent open letter to England fans, some things are “much bigger than football”.
Like progressive patriotism, for example, or projecting an outward-looking identity. Or taking a stand (in his players’ case, the knee) against racism.
I have really enjoyed watching the opening street art titles for the BBC’s Euro 2020 coverage. Designed by football artist Yoni Weisberg, and accompanied by the sound of Force Majeure by Gaspard Auge, they – according to the Beeb – “encapsulate the culture, spirit and heritage of the nations involved”.
The England bit of this aesthetically-pleasing sequence features Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, the holy trinity representing the multi-ethnic diversity of Southgate’s exciting young team. “It is common sense in our country now,” writes British Future director Sunder Katwal, “that you don’t have to be white to be English.”
If he keeps playing as well as he did in the opening game against Croatia, perhaps Kalvin Phillips will be one of the faces of the next World Cup’s coverage. The Whites midfielder has already been immortalised by Andy McVeigh – aka Leeds United’s ‘Burley Banksy’ – on an electricity box.
It is amazing to see this kind of artwork cropping up all over Yorkshire, on boxes, outhouses and the sides of buildings.
It is not limited to football, of course. I have seen depictions of boxer Josh Warrington and Leeds Rhinos icon Rob Burrow.
And it is not restricted to West Yorkshire. In Hull, Lydia Caprani’s designs have appeared on a series of traffic light signal boxes – and have been longlisted for the 2021 World Illustration Awards.
There are some fantastic examples of street art in Manchester (Marcus Rashford), Kaliningrad (legendary Soviet goalkeeper Lev Yashin) and Paris, where the great Muhammad Ali towers over an opponent on Rue Saint-Denis.
I am a bit biased, obviously, but my favourite is the Bielsa the Redeemer mural, created by the renowned abstract artist Nicolas Dixon. It shows the coach in the pose of the Christ The Redeemer statue, which soars over Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
And I can’t wait to see Dixon’s latest masterpiece, a 33 ft mural painted on the side of a building overlooking Pudsey Market. It commemorates some of Leeds United’s greatest players – including Norman Hunter, Trevor Cherry and Jack Charlton.
Leeds, like Berlin, Hamburg, Paris and many other European cities, is the beneficiary of an inspiring street art revolution.
It is great to see not only football legends, but artists like Dixon, McVeigh and Jasutowicz, receiving this kind of long-overdue recognition.