Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland superfan Chris getting huge tattoo of players and boss

By Brett Campbell

An award-winning local artist who is in demand all over the world has begun his latest big challenge - immortalising a selection of Northern Ireland players on a client's arm.

Willy Grattan (30) - known as Willy G - gave up his job as a heating engineer in 2012 and quickly established himself as the go-to tattooist for black and grey realist designs.

He counts TV stars, renowned DJs and Premier League footballers among an international clientele, and frequently flies to their homes for private bookings.

But his most recent project started when life-long Northern Ireland fan and Carrickfergus man Chris Sands (32) requested a permanent reminder of a "very special" summer in 2016.

The married father-of-two, who goes to Northern Ireland matches with eldest daughter Ellie (11), said he hoped the permanent fixture on his arm would ensure he never forgets the time he enjoyed in France during the European Championship.

"I have been thinking about this tattoo for a long time," Mr Sands explained.

"It was definitely inspired by the Euros, which gave me so many great memories that I will never forget - this is just to make sure I won't."

Mr Sands expected the body art to be delayed even further as he faced a gruelling task deciding who should be included.

"But when I sat down and thought about it was easy," he said. "I wanted the manager, Michael O'Neill, but that meant I only have room for four players."

It didn't take the football fanatic long to decide the rest of the line-up, which will pay homage to Gareth McAuley for his goal against Ukraine in the opening game of the 2016 European Championship tournament .

"I knew I had to include the team captain, Steven Davis, and also Kyle Lafferty for all the work they did to get us there," he said.

"But I also want an icon who is from my generation, so David Healy will be included because he has been our top goal scorer.

"It's a work in progress - I will need a few more sessions before it is finished."

The night-shift worker admitted he may not have fully thought the process through.

"I sat for nearly five hours for the first phase and then had to go to work, but it hasn't deterred me - it will all be worth it," he said.

Mr Sands, who had heard of the international award-winning tattoo artist through word-of-mouth, decided to visit his Whitehead studio with the seed of an idea which culminated in the first phase of the tattoo being completed on Monday.

"I went to him with an idea and he came back to me with this amazing piece of work - Willy is the artist, I'm just the canvas," Mr Sands said.

"I just told him what I was thinking and he just ran away with it.

"I'm happy with my choice. I have no doubts and now I just can't wait to see the finished work."

His wife, Paula (35), and younger daughter, Izzie (6), are also excited to see the final result.

Mr Grattan, who has a global reputation for designing roses and portraits, has inked iconic players such as George Best, but said a request like this was "very rare". "When people want portraits it's usually of their idol ,which is never going to be same thing - this will take a total of 30 hours to complete," he explained.

Chris' arm will need at least two weeks to heal before work can resume on the massive tattoo.

Belfast Telegraph

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