FOOTBALL fan Andrew Hobson can still hardly believe it.
When Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan wanted to sign striker Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers in 1996, the negotiations had to be done with cloak-and-dagger secrecy.
Instead of meeting at a hotel – and setting tongues wagging – the parties to the biggest transfer deal of the day met to discuss terms at Andrew Hobson’s terraced house in Mirfield.
“It was surreal,” he says. “My girlfriend, now my wife, came home with the shopping from Tesco and I was telling her she couldn’t come in because Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan and their money men were in the front room.”
The venue was chosen because Andrew was working for Tony Stephens, the footballers’ agent who counted Shearer among his clients along with other big-name stars David Beckham, Michael Owen and Dwight Yorke.
The rumour had been that Shearer would sign for Manchester United, says Andrew. “After the meeting, we went to a Bryan Adams concert at Old Trafford and all the players were greeting Shearer thinking he was about to join their squad.”
Sport has played a big part in shaping Andrew’s business career – but it could have been very different. As a teenager, Andrew played with a band called Maple Park. “I had to make a decision, which was to use the talents I had – and that wasn’t music!”.
After spending four years at Dewsbury College, where he gained a diploma in design and marketing, Andrew moved to London and worked for Matrix Design, part of the Tarmac Group, with clients including the Arrows Formula One team.
“I went to London because there was nothing happened around here that excited me,” he recalls. “I needed something to push me – I still tend to keep myself on ‘the edge’ and I still relish a challenge.”
Andrew also had a passion for sports architecture. At that time – in the early 1990s – broadcaster Sky was snapping up coverage of the Premier League and leading football clubs had big ambitions.
“I positioned myself as a sports marketing expert,” says Andrew. “And it was just at the right time because money was being pumped into the game. Everyone was building new stadia and looking to take lessons from the way Americans marketed sport. They were ahead of us by a good 10 years.
“I was touting myself around the clubs before I got involved in Bradford’s bid for the National Superdome. The new national stadium was always going to be Wembley – but it was useful work because it meant you had to think about what would happen when Bradford didn’t get it. You always have to be thinking ‘what next....?’”
Andrew met Tony Stephens on the building site of Huddersfield’s McAlpine Stadium and was quickly offered a job with Tony’s FXX, then billed as the world’s biggest sports marketing agency. That led him to work with the likes of Shearer, Beckham and Owen.
He also worked on stadium development schemes for super clubs like Arsenal and Italy’s Sampdoria – as well as working for Bolton Wanderers for four years.
Andrew’s next stop was as a partner in graphic design agency Atom UK, but he finally realised his ambition of heading a full marketing agency with the formation of Fantastic Media.
The Birstall-based company now works with a wide range of businesses – including Andrew’s beloved Huddersfield Town and bitter rivals Leeds United – as well as Card Factory, The Pink Link and bonmarche.
Andrew makes no apologies for making Fantastic a big, brash brand. The agency, which has 25 employees, sponsors a stand at the Galpharm Stadium and sports a bold, blood-red logo.
“I purposely made the decision from researching how the Americans do it,” he says. “I don’t think of Fantastic as a company or a firm, but a brand. I want the brand to be widely known and recognised as ‘doing exactly what it says on the tin’.”
Having worked in London, he has no plans to return. “A lot of people talk about branching out to London, but I don’t think we need to do that. London should come to us – and they will.”
As managing director, Andrew still enjoys coming up with ideas and concepts for marketing campaigns, but does not allow himself to get “bogged down” in the mundane matters of running a business. “A lot of companies fail because the MD is trying to do everything,” he says. “They should take a bit less money out of the business and pay people to do some of the chores.”
Despite a packed diary, Andrew finds time to watch Huddersfield Town and play five-a-side at The Zone once a week. Away from work, he enjoys walking the Cleveland Way and kayaking off the beach at Sands End, North Yorkshire.
His latest business venture is as a shareholder in Pitch Hero – a Facebook-style sports networking site providing websites for more than 2,000 amateur sports clubs. Andrew is sure it stands more than a sporting chance of success.