Former Ipswich man talks tats with FourFourTwo in May 2005...
“I wouldn’t say I’m an obsessive person by nature, but tattoos have certainly become the exception in recent years and people now tell me I’m the most tattooed footballer in Britain. Whether that’s true or not is open to debate: after all, who’s been round and counted them all? I certainly haven’t.
The whole tattoo thing started 11 years ago when I was at Shrewsbury. Paul Evans, who’s now at Nottingham Forest, was continually ripped by the dressing room for having a Welsh flag on his leg. I must admit I joined in with the banter, but for some reason, I felt a little sorry for him, so I decided to tag along one afternoon and have one done myself.
The tattoo I chose was only a small Chinese symbol, but it was the most painful experience of my life. As I sat in the chair, I vowed never to return. Well, as you can see, it was a promise I failed to keep and it’s now got to the stage where I’m thinking about tattoos all the time. At present, I’ve got 12 but I’m always on the look out for new ideas and new designs, and I know it’s only a matter of time before I take my place in that dreaded chair again.
I always go to the same shop, Lucky Seven, in Luton, and I invariably go with Sam Stockley [Colchester United] and Roger Johnson [Wycombe] who have also caught my addiction. If we’ve all got a day off, it’s not unusual for us to take a drive over to Luton, where our good friend Clive will go to work on us. Between Sam and myself, Clive has probably done 20 of our tattoos. We always use him because you need someone you can trust in this game. Let’s not forget, you’re going to be marked for life, so it’s important to find an artist with a steady hand. Clive also has a feel for the kind of designs we all like, so there’s never a concern that things might go wrong.
That’s not to say I haven’t had the odd clanger along the way; I once had a Chinese symbol on my stomach that didn’t look too clever, and on my left arm I had Chinese symbols which I thought spelt out my initials – only to discover later on that they made absolutely no sense at all. Thankfully, we then discovered Clive and he went to work. The symbols on my arm have now been turned into this huge tribal marking, while a Scorpion can be found adorning my stomach.
When you think of footballers and tattoos you immediately think David Beckham and I’m not ashamed to say that he’s a guy I really admire and look up to. Becks has set the trend in terms of tattoos and has made it a million times more fashionable than it once was. He made a big statement with that angel on his back, likewise his children’s names, and a lot of people have followed suit.
I had the cross done on my back soon after; it started off with Chinese symbols down my spine, which spelt out my brother’s name – Lee Lewis – and then I put the cross around it. People ask why my brother, but I did it because he’s my number one fan and my best friend. Throughout my career he’s driven the length of the country to support me and he’s someone I admire enough to have his name on my body.
These days, I tend to get my ideas from the rappers on MTV Base or even by grabbing a sneaky peak at someone on holiday. Naturally, you have to be a bit subtle when you’re doing that kind of thing but you see some great artwork on your hols. Last year, Sam, Roger and myself were walking down the beach in Marbella and we must have looked like a walking artbook. It was nice to see Roger showing off his designs: it had got a bit embarrassing for him when he had this tattoo on his right shoulder that was supposed to say ‘England’ but looked more like ‘Cagland’ and he’d become the butt of all the jokes at Wycombe. I have to say it was quite possibly the worst tattoo I’ve come across but Clive helped redeem him by covering it over with a tribal marking.
Now tattoos are becoming more and more popular in dressing rooms up and down the country; at Ipswich Pablo Counago has got some really nice designs and although I haven’t discovered whether Joe Royle’s got one, you tend to find most players have at least dabbled. I suppose they’re happy with their lot and don’t get addicted by it. But it doesn’t work that way with me.
While I absolutely detest the pain and will never look as that hot needle pierces my skin, you get out of that chair, take a look, and it all seems so worthwhile. With my baby due to be born in the summer, I’m going to have her name across my lower back and I’m also thinking of having a dragon down my right arm. Oh, and that’s not forgetting the number seven I’ve got in Roman numerals. As I no longer wear that number, I’m going to stick an ‘X’ at the front because I’m getting married on the 17th of next month to my fiancée Emma. And before you ask, yes, her name is prominently placed… at the top of my groin!
I know she won’t be too happy if I have many more, and the concern is what I’ll look like when I’m walking down the beach at the age of 55 covered in tattoos. Well, I can’t honestly say many people that age look good in their beachwear, regardless of whether they’ve got tattoos or not, and I’ll be no different. I say you’ve got to live for today, live for the moment. Hey, now there’s an idea for a tattoo…”