For a guy fascinated by tattoos and sports since childhood, becoming the first ever Chief Tattoo Officer (CTO) for a local, major league soccer team is something of a dream come true. That’s the goal that Bonedaddys Tattoo founder and Delco native Jay Cunliffe (along with his 12-year-old tattoo parlor’s crew) scored by becoming the official CTO to the pro Philadelphia Union soccer team who makes its home at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester.
That tattooist’s win got its first celebration when team members and tattoo crew alike hook up on Monday at Bonedaddys in Aston with live tattooing demos by Cunliffe and his crew of artists, giving tattoos to various members of the Union organization, including defender Richie Marquez, Union fan group Sons of Ben boss Corey Furlan, and Doug Vosik, Union VP of marketing.
“The shop is amazing, it's really cool,” Marquez said, in a prepared statement. “It's an exciting moment. Their portfolios were phenomenal. When the best stand out, you can tell the difference, and that was the case. I'm excited to see what kind of tattoos everyone else is going to get.”
“I always wanted to tattoo people – no, seriously – ever since I was a kid,” said Cunliffe, 37, who grew up in Alden, just 20 minutes from his Bonedaddys. “My father knew a tattoo shop owner when I was a kid, and once he introduced us, I was off.”
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It wasn’t Cunliffe’s dad who influenced young Jay to overall tattoo aesthetic, but an uncle with long hair that played electric guitar and wore a Rolling Stones tongue-and-lips insignia on his bicep. “Watching him play with his hair swinging and that long tongue sticking out on his arm that moved while he pumped that guitar: that was really cool to me,” said Cunliffe. “That was my first memory of seeing a tattoo that I was really intrigued by.”
Bonedaddys is not Cunliffe’s first experience at tattooing, as he inked locals at parlors in Darby and Chester. Yet, in 2005, when the Pennell Road salon formerly known as both Studio One and RCs in their time came up for grabs, he knew that he had to snatch it up.
“I wanted a place that was skull and bones, but not pirate-y,” he laughed. “Nothing crossbones. But my sister’s favorite movie as a kid was ‘A Nightmare Before Christmas,’ and in that film, the lead character, Jack Skellington, gets referred to as Bone Daddy.” Between BoneDaddys and his previous gigs, Cunliffe – like his brother Josh, and crew members Nate Cook, John Pohl – has amassed between 15 and 20 years in the business, and for that, has won a great reputation, smart word of mouth and tons of return customers who hail – not only from Pennsylvania and New Jersey – from as far as New York and Connecticut.
“It’s humbling still that we have returning clients who go so far out of their way to get tattooed by us.”
When Philadelphia Union announced in February, 2017 that they were looking to fill the novel position of a Chief Tattoo Officer they quickly fielded applications from over 150 candidates. Bonedaddys wasn’t one of them at first.
“Somebody tagged me with the Unions’ search and I filled it out without thinking,” said Cunliffe with a laugh. “I even forgot I had done it, until we were notified that we had made it down to the final 13. Suddenly I thought that being a CTO could be pretty cool.”
Now that Cunliffe is the Chief Tattoo Officer, he and his Bonedaddys’ crew are prepared to ink players, trainers and front office managers from the Philadelphia Union – at home and away games – starting with their celebratory debut event at the Aston parlor on August 21. When a player or trainer wants a tattoo – be it a team logo or a tribal band – Cunliffe & Co are there. After August 21’s debut, Bonedaddys and the Philadelphia Union will host fan tattooing sessions starting within the several weeks.
“I’ve loved soccer and all sports for as long as I can remember, so this is a big deal,” said Cunliffe.