Getting together to talk ink and style and everything in between, we head to a London tattoo studio with Aaron Ramsey to get a first look at his exclusive limited edition boot with New Balance.
Designed together with the brand and limited to just 100 pairs, this Visaro has been dipped in ink to take on the markings that mean the most to 'Rambo'. An open chat about the humbling highs and lows of the contemporary game, plus a creative look at his inkspiration - there's a lot to offer from this man in the middle.
So let’s get straight to your tattoos, they obviously mean a lot to you, where did it all start?
"It was after I broke my leg really. That’s when I fancied getting some. I’ve always been quite interested in body art but that time was when I really felt pulled towards getting some tattoos."
"When I was 16/17, that’s when I started taking notice of a few celebrities and people like that, with tattoos and I really liked the work that I saw some tattoo artists doing."
Mates or family members that had tattoos?
"Yeah, there’s a few people in my family who have tattoos but they’re a bit more old school. A lot of love hearts and things like that [laughs]. I think the designs you see today and the amount people are getting done, the art of it has come on so far now. I think it’s brilliant."
What was the biggest motivator to start getting them?
"Although my injury was on my other leg, some of the things I’ve had done are there as reminders. I’ve got St. Michael on there and at that point in my career I felt that it would give me the strength I needed to find my way back from injury. It’s there as a sign of strength and protection. I’ve also got a passage from Psalms 23 on there as well, I like that ‘fear no evil’ way of thinking. You know, we all face challenges in our careers so that was about embracing them and tackling them head on. I’ve also got another one which is of Caerphilly Castle which is where I’m from. I used to go passed there every day - I’ve been lucky to go to many places all over the world but that’s the place that will always be in place to remind me of where I’ve come from. I like to have my roots in there."
"I’m proud of where I come from, that’s where I grew up and effectively made me who I am today. I spent the majority of my life there so I’m never going to forget that place."
You’ve got a few tattoos then, they’re all part of one collective piece on your leg - did you get them all done in one sitting?
"No I think my longest sitting was about 7 or 8 hours. It took about 4 sittings to get it all done so well over 20 hours in total. I’m going to get it re-touched over the summer and there’s a few bits and bobs that are not completely finished but I’ve just not had a chance yet. It also takes a few days for it to heal so I’ve got to wait until we’ve got a bit more time in the summer to do that. Maybe I’ll look to add a few more things in there while I’m there."
When you first got it done, what was the reaction like of friends and family? Any comments?
"I think my mum was questioning it at the beginning. [laughs] I just said to her that it’s my body and I can do what I want but over time it’s grown on her. When I first had it done, she was probably the most shocked out of everyone."
Now you’ve had a few done, have you got a bit of a taste for them? The process can be a little addictive can’t it?
"Yeah, it definitely is. I think once you start, it’s quite hard to stop. Even the pain is quite nice in a way. Once you get over the first initial first couple of minutes and you settle in, you get quite used to it and I like it. Like I said, I’ll probably get more in the summer."
You mentioned breaking your leg. That obviously served as a lot of time to think about things, it must have been quite challenging mentally. Did it give you plenty of time to think about what you’d have done?
"Yeah. Obviously I got injured and you end up questioning a lot of things. But I had to stay strong and had to believe that I was going to come back better from it. I didn’t have any doubts that I would but I just needed some little things like my tattoos to keep me going in the process."
How did you actually go about having it designed? Did you have an idea and present it to someone?
"I sort of had an idea about the type of things I wanted like the main images I wanted in there and I sat down with the artist that did and we worked on it together really. We placed the designs in different positions on my leg and it all came together like that really. He’s who I’m going to go back to in the summer. I’ll get it re-touched and add some other bits as well."
What sort of thing are you thinking of adding? Anything in mind already?
"Maybe. I might just get something quite simple but something to do with my son. It won’t be another big piece, something small and subtle is what I’m thinking. I’m looking forward to that."
How similar are those nerves or adrenaline that go through your head when you’re heading out onto the pitch in comparison to that of getting a tattoo?
"I think it’s probably easier when walking out onto the pitch. [laughs] I suppose it is quite similar to when you’re walking onto the pitch. You’ve got to go through that sort of pain barrier, you’ve got to dig in and see it through but at the end the rewards can be quite incredible. I’m pleased with the way that my tattoos have finished up and I suppose that feeling is similar to winning a football match - you’re proud of what you’ve just done in that regard."
When you come into a tattoo parlour like we have today and you hear the buzz, do you get a little impulsive to get something done?
"I do get that a bit. I can see a guy getting a bit tattoo being done. It definitely makes me want those additions in the summer!"
In your own character, would you say you could be quite impulsive in that way or…
"Nah, I’d probably have to have a bit of time to think about it. A tattoo is for life after all so I’d have to think about it personally. I know some of my mates have just gone in and got something done impulsively, they probably had a few beers too many and ended up with a smiley face on them somewhere but I wouldn’t do that."
Have you ever seen someone with a tattoo inspired by you?
"Ha, no. Maybe oneday. Maybe. Thinking about it, I think I did get sent a picture in the summer of somebody with my name on them at the Euros. That was pretty funny."
Did you think about marking the achievements of the Euros in tattoo form? That was quite an incredible way Wales took the tournament by storm…
"Yeah, that was obviously a top achievement for us. Nobody would have thought we would have got that far. We wanted to go there and show what we’re capable of doing and we surpassed that and went on to better things. Getting to the semi-final was incredible but maybe if we had won it I would have got something but I think because we were just short at the semis, it didn’t quite warrant it for me."
"I know a few players like Ramos have got trophies on them. Something iconic like winning a European tournament like that would be well worthy of a tattoo. Maybe if we can win a third FA Cup with Arsenal then I might get a gold one on me somewhere."
Where did this collaboration from New Balance come from - is it something you’ve wanted to do for a while?
"It was an amazing thing to do and I don’t think many players get to do something like this so I was really excited when we sat down and discussed it. Seeing it now, my tattoos on there - it’s just really cool to have the opportunity. New Balance were brilliant and were quite open as to what I wanted to put on there. David (who designed the boot) had some great ideas and I think we can be proud of the outcome."
Looking at them, going from your first pair of boots through to your own custom boots - that’s got to be quite a bit personal milestone for you?
"Yeah, like I said - it’s not something many players get to do so it really wasn’t something I could pass up so yeah I wanted to put my own stamp on there and I’m really pleased with them."
You’ve been through a few hair changes, embraced the ink and now a signature boot, would you say you’ve made a conscious effort to really create an image for yourself?
"I’d say I’m just trying to be myself I suppose. I’m only young once so if I want to change my hairstyle for example, it’s something that I’ll go and do. It’s not something I’m actively trying to do but football has a habit of trying to mould people in saying “you need to be this sort of way” but I’m just trying to live my life the way I want to live it. In the same breath, I have to make sure I’m doing all I can to perform at my very best for my club and country so it’s about getting that balance right."
Football and tattoos go hand in hand now, the way players look - there’s a lot of expression in that - do you like being able to put yourself out on the stage in that way?
"I think so. That’s your identity isn’t it. You want to stamp your mark on the game and you want to go out there and show people exactly what you can do and who you are. Having this artwork, it gives you a chance to show people what you’re all about. It shows the character I am and what is most personal to me as well."
What players do you think command a strong look in the game right now? Are there some out there you look at for a bit of style inspiration?
"David Beckham and his tattoos are obviously iconic. He’s got some incredible artwork on him. You don’t need me to say that but naturally, the look he has is very cool. There’s player like Alex Iwobi who tuck their socks into their shin pads which I like, it’s a good look. For me though, if my sock is over the knee then drops down, I won’t spend too much time sorting it out or whatever."
Is it quite weird to be in that situation where you could do something as simple as pull your socks up dead high and then next thing you know, everyone is talking about it?
"Yeah I suppose it is in a way. Football goes through phases fashion wise doesn’t it. We had baggy shorts for a while and now the shorts are getting smaller again so it all goes in cycles. But it is mad to think as players to think you can have that kind of influence."
The next generation of football player is switched on. From lifestyle and streetwear through to music and design, there’s a big change from that of the 90s where it was all a little cringe - it must be good to be playing when the game has never been more on point?
"I think there’s so much publicity and also so much connection through social media which means we can be a little more expressive. It also gives people more of an insight into how we live, what we like to done, what we like to have done - like tattoos or artwork. Same for fashion, it’s something that wasn’t around in the nineties so there are more opportunities for us."
Are there things that you want to explore vocationally outside of football at all? Naturally it’s a busy life but as a creative player, do you also look for a creative output away from the game?
"Not so much business but I do like working with brands and exploring new opportunities that way. I’ve got a few exciting things coming up on that front. It’s cool to do different things when the time is right, away from football. I like to experience different things and maybe to do so means putting yourself out there, out of your comfort zone. You only live once so why not."
You’d say you’re someone who goes looking for new experiences then?
"Yeah I think so. I think it’s important to build your character. It’s all forming of yourself isn’t."
This season has been a tough one where Arsenal are concerned. Coming into the season off of such a high in the summer with Wales, has it been a tough one?
"You know, the experience in the summer was incredible and it’s up there for me as one of the greatest experiences of my life. Coming back, I was excited and ready to start the season but then I broke down in the first game and that kind of kills the momentum and kills the flow. I’ve had that a few times this season and it takes you a few games to find that rhythm again and unfortunately just as I’ve got back into it, I’ve been knocked back again. So you can’t get that consistency going. I’m excited now though as to how we might finish this season. We’re in another final, we have a handful of games to do all we can to get that fourth place finish and hopefully we’ll be celebrating at the end."
The time off you’ve had, that’s got to be a tough mental challenge - have you learnt to deal with that psychologically?
"You definitely have the time to go over things, to question things, to question yourself. All these things you have to do to pull yourself through it, it’s no different to when you get a little injury to a big one. It’s all about doing all you can to getting back stronger and building yourself so you eradicate that problem."
How much talk is there in a changing room about tattoos and style these days?
"There’s a lot of debate and discussion about who dresses the best, who has the best style or swag or whatever. It’s massive though. It’s every day life isn’t it. Everyone wants to look and feel good and have their own identity as well. Tattoos are the same as well."
Your Land Rover, there’s a bit more of a considered style with what we’ve seen on your instagram for example. It’s a damn cool car, that…
"I love the Defenders. I always wanted to get one and I thought I’d treat myself. It’s great for the dog as well. I chuck her in the back and off we go. It’s a country car and when you’re out in the countryside you really feel it. It’s a good old car where you’re in control of it as well."
You look at Beckham and he’s moved into the motorbike scene. There’s a lot of crossover with the tattoo scene. Could you see yourself moving into motorbikes?
"I’ve always liked bikes. In my younger days, I did have a couple. Obviously we’re not allowed to be on them now in case of injury. A few of my mates love it as well. Maybe one day I can get back into it."
Do you ever just think it might be a laugh to get an unusual tattoo just to mess about with the tabloids a bit? Someone with a lot of attention on them like yourself could have a bit of fun there?
"I did that in the Euros with my hair style. It got a bit of attention and a few people questioned it. I fancied doing that for a while and I thought that was the occasion to do it, just before we headed over to France and I’m glad I did it."
What are some of the best tattoos you’ve seen in football?
"I like Theo Walcott’s. He’s got a bit of a knight theme going which is pretty cool. I like Beckham’s chest piece as well. I like how clean it is and how much detail is in it."
On the flip side… some of the worst?
"Ha, naftats. Yeah I’ve seen a couple. Some of my mates have got some stupid ones. One of my mates was on holiday and got his name tattooed on the inside of his lip, one has a smiley face on his bum cheek - there’s some shockers."
The New Balance Visaro 'Ramsey' is available here now.
Photography by Edd Horder with thanks to Sang Bleu for having us.