Join OOF founder Eddy Frankel and JJ Guest in conversation as they explore the artist's complicated relationship with football and how it has culminated in a truly unique exhibition.

OOF was founded to explore the bountiful middle ground between art and football. For the magazine’s editor and founder Eddy Frankel though, it’s not about the painted murals of players that adorn sides of buildings and bedroom walls all around the globe, it’s about how artists use the world’s favourite game to reveal truths about the underbelly of our society.


Now accompanying the magazine is OOF Gallery, an arts space suitably nestled right next to the megalopolis that is the new billion-pound Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. There lies a tangible tension between this symbol of the modern game and a gallery that aims to unpack the sometimes-ugly truths of the game.


No better to represent this fractious relationship between art and football is OOF Gallery’s current artist in residence, JJ Guest. Guest’s work explores the ubiquitous presence of homophobia in football and how that has affected his own identity as a gay man.


Amongst the pieces in his latest exhibition is a massive, functional post-match bath with tiles that reveal nearly-erotic imagery of players when splashed with water. There’s also a blown-up image of England’s most contentious goal which doubles as a glory hole, while a urinal displays jubilant footballers showering each other with champagne.


Ahead of his debut solo exhibition The Other Team, we caught up with both JJ and Eddy to delve deep into what makes this show, full of fragmented sculptures and double entendre, both incendiary and insightful.

Eddy, what was your journey to founding OOF?

EF: I was and am an art critic for Time Out London. I’m also a big football fan. But the two worlds always felt separate. I slowly realised that football and art had a lot in common and there was a lot I could be doing with it, so I started this magazine that somehow still exists.

How did you find space to operate in a market that at the time was getting oversaturated with football and culture magazines?

EF: It was specifically our niche. There was nothing conceited about it as it was tied specifically to the way we think about football. Along with Justin and Jennie Hammond, who are also from an art background, we are only interested in artists who use football to talk about society. This makes us incredibly difficult to work with! You need to have a USP and that’s what we care about.

On that note JJ, how is it working with someone with such a specific vision?

JJ: You caught me on a good day! I wouldn’t really be able to carry on doing the work I’m doing without it – and I’m not just saying that because he’s sat here. I wasn’t planning on making football work in the slightest. When I was at school, I had to make a choice between being gay and liking football because it didn’t feel safe to do both. I made my first pieces about football players because they were allowed to kiss and hug on the pitch, and I wasn’t allowed to do that off the pitch. That’s what kind of led me to meeting OOF and from there they gave me this safe sandbox to keep playing with. Suddenly I could speak to the world of football about queerness without anyone feeling like they are being attacked.


EF: The reason we immediately liked JJ’s work and we knew we wanted to work with him is similar to why we feel art and football works. We always talk about Warhol’s portrait of Pelé which we’ll never write about. It’s a portrait of celebrity and football but it’s not actually saying anything bigger than “Pelé’s famous”. We’re instead interested in what football tells us about life and JJ’s work is the perfect embodiment of that.

Was it always an ambition to create OOF Gallery?

EF: After issue two or three it came about because Justin and Jennie are gallerists. They had their own space, J Hammond Projects, so it was a natural progression. We had this specific view of the art we are interested in and its relation to football. If you look up any famous exhibition about football and art, it’s usually “The Beautiful Game” and we never use that phrase. We wanted to do something that was harsher and grittier.

How did you two meet?

JJ: I started speaking to Justin back in 2019 but I didn’t meet Eddy until my first big group show with artists like Sarah Lucas. I hadn’t been to a football ground until my first show at OOF Gallery back in 2020 and it was very weird, but a cathartic and emotional experience. Now, to have this location as a studio space and go through that process of entering a football stadium every day… I didn’t ever imagine this.

Does this close proximity to a football stadium inform the art even further?

JJ: Yeah, definitely. My background is in retail, so to walk through a gift shop to get to a gallery space, which is basically in a football stadium, is a weird memory lane thing every day. The pressure of making queer work in a football stadium was initially terrifying. Doing a show about homophobia in football in one of the largest stadiums in the world is insane.


EF: It is terrifying! The majority of people who come here are not here for art, they are here to see the Spurs stadium: they stumble upon us. This exhibition deals with a divisive topic, we’re confronting people with something they might disagree with so it’s up to us to be strong and say, “we believe in this and if you don’t believe in this it makes you a bigot”. That’s a tough message to strike with your audience.

Having to think about football fans physically meandering around the space is interesting, especially as your art, with its fragmentary and confrontational style, is designed to invite introspection from this demographic…

JJ: Yeah, 100%. When you put your foot over the threshold of the exhibition you are confronted with two players kissing. It’s not something that’s made up or drawn, we’ve just taken a moment from time. Fans have been fine with this happening for years but putting it in this space means they have to really consider what it means in a greater context. They have to move around the space and completely dive in with their own bodies. They’re choosing to be there so, in a way, they are condoning that moment and becoming part of this queer experience. This may make some people feel uncomfortable and, although my work stems from a place of anger and frustration, ultimately I want something that communicates and creates a space. In an ironic way, I’m trying to create a safe space for heterosexual people that might not agree with queerness to stand and talk to someone who has a softer approach.


EF: Yeah, it fits into this whole idea of football being able to communicate bigger ideas. Football is the hook to pull people in, but what they are actually getting is messages. Bang!

Can you talk more about the paradox in football between what affection can be displayed in stadiums worldwide, but otherwise might have to remain hidden?

JJ: Certain parts of this exhibition are about players sharing communal baths with each other. I’m looking at these images from the 60s and 80s and there are 11 naked men joyously sharing this bath and pouring champagne all over each other. This is a photograph, and it was published in newspapers, but at the same time gay men were being beaten, arrested, and dragged out of bath houses. There’s always been this duality of what you can do when you put a football shirt on. I’ve never understood that. It’s frustration that if I’d lived my life differently and gone against my identity, I may somehow have had more intimate relationships with men. I’ve had less tactility and I’ve had to suppress parts of myself. It’s so frustrating that the same acts are celebrated every weekend by men who would shout slurs at strangers on the street for walking differently. When you get people talking one on one about these things, they are more intrigued and a lot less threatened by queerness. I’m not telling anyone what is right or wrong or what they should feel, I’m just trying to come to terms with stuff.

Have the recent Beckham and Henderson incidents surrounding their endorsements of Qatar and Saudi Arabia informed your art at all?

JJ: I don’t think the gay community were given enough attention in football until the Qatar World Cup. I’m reluctant to speak on these things because it feels like jumping on the bandwagon and condemning someone who has done amazing things for the queer community. Even without Qatar, football isn’t always safe space to go to. Things can be all happy days until a player misses a goal. If they were gay and missed a goal, we all know how that would go. I do have feeling and it does inform my work, but I’d like to let the work speak on that. Homophobia is very nuanced, especially in different parts of the world. It’s easy to look somewhere else and say how bad it is, when really we should focus on the issues we have.


EF: Do you feel like some messaging in the football world is performative?


JJ: I appreciate massively what places like Rainbow Laces and Stonewall are doing, but then I think it’s easy for people to look at themselves and say: “Well look, we wear this rainbow armband once a year!” That’s the same for any marginalised group that’s supported under a banner, logo, or jazzy slogan. We need more out players, and they need to be supported by the clubs, fans, and commercially.

Circles and holes are a frequent reoccurrence in your art. The shape mimics a football, the tabloid close ups you’ve shared on Instagram, and now for this exhibition: a glory hole. Can you share more about why the shape features so heavily?

JJ: It is just a shape, but depending on where you place it, it can mean something completely different. When straight people see a circle, they may immediately think of football, whereas in a queer context it could be something completely different. My work’s about making people look at things in different ways. Sometimes in art galleries you see them asking for people to bring specific mentalities to the work. But you can’t second guess that so sometimes you have to make things as simple as possible and let people bring all of what they are. The circle is the simplest of shapes: glory holes, footballs, and everything in between. When you think of it as a hole, it’s like something’s missing. When I was looking at making kit badges for this show, I kept going back to this blank circle, because ultimately to be gay growing up is a removal of identity: you take things away from yourself to be safe in certain spaces. I love this idea, especially with how you use cut-outs in your work, like you’re removing parts from the art and yourself.


JJ: The circle is full and it’s empty. I’ve never really deeped this so you’re getting this fresh!

What are your favourite pieces in the collection?

EF: There’s not a work I particularly favour, but I love all the double entendre. Like the spot the ball competition piece, ‘Glory’. If you take it at face value that is 100% what it is, but if you look at it and see a glory hole, you’re also 100% correct. It’s super un-exclusionary. As a curator you kind of feel like a parent to the art, and we’re all giving birth to it together. OOF’s the dad and JJ’s the mum, he’s doing the important work and we’re just saying: “keep breathing”, and whatever pops out, it’s still our baby. Is that a weird metaphor?


JJ: No, I’m very happy with that. I’ve been with ‘Glory’ for the longest, so I feel a lot of sentimentality. I am excited for the bath downstairs because it’s a big piece and people have to get really involved with it.


EF: We’re so used to seeing different versions of all the works that we’re waiting to experience the art fully. It’s been a long gestation period – oh my god another birth metaphor – so we’re just excited to see it.

Order your copy of Notion 94 here.