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Crew body ink: How hard hat men, skylines and a cat show fans’ endless support for the Black & Gold

Crew supporters show their dedication to the club by permanently defiling their flesh.

Courtesy of Chris Walker

The decision to get any body modification, whether it be a piercing or a tattoo, is not one to be taken lightly. Piercings have their impact. Ear gauges might prevent you from getting that job on Wall Street you’ve been dreaming of, for instance. Tattoos are no different. When permanently marking your body, people tend to go with something that’s timeless and has a deeper meaning (youthful indiscretions like barbed wire bicep tattoos aside) that will continue to resonate throughout their lives.

Sports team-related tattoos are particularly tricky, however. Done well, they celebrate your passion and dedication to the team. Done poorly, you come off as a steakhead who would probably do well to get some other hobbies. As Columbus Crew SC fan Chris Walker put it, “I always told myself I’d never get a tattoo commemorating a sports team. It was silly, I told myself. That said, life has a way of taking your expectations and smashing them against the wall.” This is complicated by the nature of modern sports where a player-centric tattoo can be outdated thanks to the whims of the trade market, team re-branding may render your Dallas Burn tattoo passé, and franchise mobility might make that bad-ass St. Louis Rams ink obsolete.

These are some of the issues that were facing Crew-inked fans with the club’s 2015 re-branding and the subsequent threat to relocate the team. Those with the construction worker badge or with anything Crew-related permanently affixed to their skin faced the very real possibility of a constant and ever-present reminder of Anthony Precourt’s betrayal. With the success of the Save the Crew movement, however, many fans were motivated to commemorate the momentous occasion with some celebratory ink.

What follows are a few of the stories of Crew fans and their Black & Gold body art. On the whole, a few themes emerged. Fans are proud of their tattoos and don’t regret having gotten them, even as the possibility of relocation loomed. Several got specific Save The Crew tattoos to mark the moment when the club was saved. And all point to the sense of family and community engendered by the Crew as reasons why they proudly display their tattooed freakiness.

Nordecke co-founder Mike Blankley has some of the oldest Crew ink. At the very start of the 2008 season, Blankley got an image of the badge on the outside of his right calf in order to mark the origins of the Nordecke. “I got it because I felt like this was the beginning of something special that I had helped create and wanted to remember,” he recalled. Perhaps more importantly, though the tattoo reminds him “of that incredible year. Spending that summer traveling, following the team with my friends (he went to away games at D.C. United, Toronto FC, Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire that year) and building lifelong friendships that persist to this day despite most of the original Crew Union leadership group dispersing all over the U.S. now.”

Nordecke co-founder Mike Blankley’s OG Hard Hat Guys
Courtesy of Mike Blankley

Ray Finnegan echoed some of Blankley’s sentiments. His anatomically correct heart tattoo (in non-anatomically correct black and gold) featuring a modified new Crew badge “means hope, friendship, family, new beginnings.” It means “go with all your heart. Be relentless in your pursuit for what means the world to you because no matter the odds, if it means that much to you, you can truly win.”

Designed in consultation with Finnegan by artist Paul Schissler at Save The Crew-supporting Evolved Tattoo, the ink over his heart was inspired by the success of the Save The Crew movement. Finnegan told his girlfriend in the summer of Save The Crew, ”if the Crew were saved I’d get a tattoo and I knew somehow that it would happen. I have that childhood, anything can happen kind of belief.”

Go with all your heart.
Courtesy of Ray Finnegan

Chris Walker was likewise inspired by the successful effort to save the club from the clutches of a greedy and duplicitous owner. “I always said that when we Saved the Crew, I was going to get a tattoo to commemorate the battle to save our team. It was a year I will never forget.” His tat, by Austin Yancey at Riot Ink, is of the Save The Crew badge designed by John Zidar. “It is hard to put into words. The saga of Save The Crew completely took over my life and that of my family. It was a daily thing for what felt like forever. I made new friends, went places and met people I never thought possible, and poured my blood, sweat and tears into a cause that was greater than myself. It affected me more profoundly than anything had in a long, long time, and it is a period of my life I will never forget.”

So fresh. So clean. Chris Walker’s Save The Crew tattoo looks pretty good, too.
Courtesy of Chris Walker

Charles Campisano also got permanently marked with the Save The Crew logo, which was particularly meaningful given his role as the lead lawyer for the City of Columbus in the legal fight to keep the Crew. According to Campisano, his wife Darla also became more involved in the Nordecke and the team during that tumultuous year. His tattoo “represents a year of fighting for the Crew both personally and professionally,” a connection that was furthered by Campisano’s position in the City’s legal negotiations over the new stadium and community sports park. The tattoo was also special to Campisano “because Zidar designed it. Before I knew John, I knew his dad and he passed away during the Save The Crew battle.”

Charles Campisano looking like he’s about to drop a new album.
Courtesy of Charles Campisano

Korey Keplinger was more motivated by the direction of the club after the unveiling of the new crest. Along with the ill-advised Cincinnati Red’s tattoo pictured below, Keplinger has 11 other tattoos but this one, “is about supporting the team and the city that I love.” When the threat of moving to Austin seemed real, Keplinger “would’ve hated looking at it… It would have told a story, still, just a sad one.” But things obviously turned out just fine and Keplinger still has an interesting story about his ink. He met for Columbus forwarrd Kei Kamara at an event for season ticket members and Kamara tweeted a picture of the tattoo. Later that evening he showed his appreciation for Keplinger’s ink by giving him a pair of signed boots that said, “Love your tattoo — Kei Kamara.”

Columbus ‘Til I Die. Cincinnati ‘Til ?
Courtesy of Korey Keplinger

Kasey Castle was similarly driven by the club’s rebrand, but he went with something of his own design: the state of Ohio featuring the checkerboard and diagonal stripes on the club’s new crest.

Ohio’s Team.
Courtesy of Kasey Castle

Tony Galiffo’s Crew ink is much more personal, however. In the summer of 2016, his estranged brother invited him to his tattoo session only to find out that his brother was also going to pay for Tony to get something, too. Not that Galiffo was particularly interested in having his brother pay for him. But it just so happened that Tony’s friend and fellow Black & Gold supporter was an artist at that particular shop. Galiffo had recently discussed getting a Crew tattoo with Norman, so the two planned it out and quickly drew it up: the Crew badge with a wreath of leaves encircling it. It was Galiffo’s first tattoo and he was “happy to have a friend and Crew fan do my first piece.” And while things haven’t worked out with his brother, Galiffo says “it’s one of only a handful of decent memories I have with him. I’m thankful.”

Tony Galiffo and Jake Norman.
Courtesy of Tony Gallifo
Tony Gallifo’s ink.
Courtesy of Tony Galiffo

Evan Lind’s Crew-inspired ink, while tied to the Save the Crew movement, is much quirkier. Lind made a comment that, “if we succeeded in saving the Crew, I would get a tattoo of Crew Cat.” Why would a grown man want a tattoo of Crew Cat, the team’s mascot? Well, according to Lind, “I have always loved Crew Cat, but he became especially meaningful to me as a symbol of resistance during the STC saga. Crew Cat was something good, beloved and distinctly Columbus that Precourt destroyed for no reason. He represents the Crew to me in a way that the Hard Hat guys do to many others.”

Lind’s tattoo artist at Solid State Tattoo in Milwaukee was likewise perplexed about his choice of ink. “He definitely thought I was insane,” recalled Lind. “He asked at least three times, ‘So this isn’t even the mascot anymore?’ He was very confused.” But “to me, it represents loyalty and perseverance while remaining goofy and true to yourself.”

Crew Calf.
Courtesy of Evan Lind

Your humble writer also has Crew-related ink that’s a bit more on the whimsical side but it’s not immediately recognizable as a Crew tattoo. I’ve been on a Twitter quest to get Crew fans to adopt the American goldfinch as the club’s unofficial mascot (#UpTheFinchez), a quest that inexplicably has led to a conflict with Columbus Dispatch columnist Michael Arace, a man I have never met. Arace, for some reason, prefers the inferior and non-native canary (which is only good for dying in coal mines) and has made a habit of taking potshots at me and goldfinches in his columns and the Dispatch’s Crew podcast The Soccer Speakeasy.

I have several birds as part of the tattoo sleeve on my left arm, depicting the changing of the seasons and a Crew-related tattoo was always part of that planned art. initially, I planned on getting a black and yellow checkered flag behind a buckeye leaf but at the last minute changed it up to an American goldfinch on a buckeye. I’m still going to get the checkered flag waving behind the goldfinch, but I guess I just got sick of Arace’s jibes. And now that I’m writing for Massive Report I finally have a platform that allows me to fire back at Arace in a more productive way than getting a tattoo out of spite.

#UpTheFinchez #SuckItArace
Courtesy of Dave Hageman

Clearly these tattoos have profound meaning for their owners, meaning that goes further than skin deep. They represent the integral part that the Columbus Crew plays in fans’ lives and highlight the sense of belonging engendered by something as seemingly trivial as support of a soccer team. Tattoos have historically fulfilled this role. They marked you out as being different, as belonging to a subset of a larger society or a member of a particular community, a community that required the pain and dedication and loyalty that getting a tattoo required. The Crew family is different in that regard, though. For fans of all ages, genders, shapes, sizes, races and class backgrounds, the team is a family and one that doesn’t require a permanent reminder on your skin that you belong. A little ink doesn’t hurt, though.