Making their mark on and off the pitch.

As man and boy I have followed football. Not soccer. Football! If you cut me, I would bleed blue. I’m Chelsea through and through! Usually at some ungodly hour, I watch the latest and greatest showcase their silky skills down the wing, in the box or right down the middle! These abundant skills are paired with an abundant display of amazing body art. Sleeves, necks, torsos and thighs. It’s not such a recent trend either. Since the ‘90s (or maybe earlier), more and more players have been displaying their tattoos loud and proud. Many of the game’s nouveau millionaires have some remarkable body art to show on the field and in the nightclubs.

Becks was the original tattooed icon. He made the artform cool whilst bending it around a six-man wall. He unveiled his first tattoo, the ‘Guardian Angel’, in 2000. He now has 55 and counting.

Tattoos are a prominent part of today’s game of football, as they are in current society. Whether they be works of art, religious allegiances, meaningful messages or propaganda, each star has the opportunity to showcase them to millions of viewers. In some instances, showcasing these tattoos has been used to benefit others.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic rivals Beckham as being the most-inked icon in the footballing world. He has 50 names alone inked on his upper body. This might seem odd and unorthodox, a little like the man himself. The names reference the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) and the 805 million people who suffer from hunger. The 50 names hint at a massive global problem. The problem of hunger, the world’s biggest ‘disease’. Whilst playing for Paris Saint-Germain, Zlatan revealed ‘the 50’ when he scored after just two minutes. Removing his shirt so early in a game and receiving a yellow card put him and the team at risk for the rest of the match. However, for Zlatan, disclosing the message was far more important than the cautionary punishment. In a WFP interview he exclaimed, “Whenever you hear my name, you will think of their names. Whenever you see me, you will see them”. Zlatan’s tattoos were supported by an awareness clip that attracted 1.2 million hits by the end of the unveiling weekend. Today, that number is over seven million.

Tim Howard, former Everton and USA’s national goalkeeper, is another decorated activist. Under his shirt, a mosaic of images and family references are integral to the overall design. However, Tim doesn’t display any activist pieces, as ripping oM one’s shirt is an infrequent part of a goalie’s game. Instead, Tim models for groups to highlight his backing. He has unveiled his torso for PETA and their “Ink, NOT MINK” campaign. PETA is a meaningful charity to Tim, as he despises the inhumanity towards the animals that are killed by the fur trade. It was this sentiment that inspired him to raise awareness of the cruelty, and hopefully make a difference.

Both players have had their fair share of media attention throughout their respective careers. They have chosen to use their decorated bodies to help communicate causes in which they truly believe. They were able to spread their charities‘ manifestos all over the world faster than the charities could have managed alone, with various media at their disposal. In this day of ‘nosebleed-inducing player’s salaries’ I applaud both who were genuinely intent to make a difference on and on the pitch. This is proof that a picture says a thousand words!

Written by Mick Thorp

Mick Thorp is Coach and Creative Director at Friend_Thorp and has over thirty five years of creative leadership experience across brand identity creation and implementation, shareholder communications and integrated campaigns. As a creative director and mentor, he has helped to coach, nurture and develop outstanding teams of award winning, business creatives and has provided opportunities for account managers, typesetters and finished artists whom have continued on to excel in their respective disciplines. Mick has worked on some of the major design projects commissioned within Australia in the last 20 years and has had work published nationally and internationally and has been awarded in recognition for his efforts in branding, typography and print design.

May 3, 2021

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