The gloves are off

November 17, 2015

Former Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper talks to Alison Cowie about pub quizzes, pants and possible football management

Business ideas that arise from blokes sitting in pubs rarely come to fruition but for ex-Newcastle United and Hull City goalkeeper Steve Harper, the pub was exactly where Oddballs Apparel Limited was conceived.

Steve and his friends (Richard Metcalfe, founder of a sportswear company and ex-international rugby player, and Paul Varley, distinguished business leader and former chief executive of Newcastle Falcons Rugby Club) were avid participants in a weekly pub quiz.

Some weeks it was lime and soda and the questions were taken seriously; sometimes a few pints turned into a couple of bottles of wine and the dedication to the quizmaster lapsed.

It was on one of these more lubricated nights that the three men began talking about possible business ventures together. And while most pub-based ideas dissipate as the effects of the alcohol wear off, Steve, Richard and Paul’s desire to create a company that utilised their business acumen and extensive network of contacts – while also having a charitable element – only grew stronger.

After weeks of discussion, they came up with Oddballs, a range of vibrantly patterned boxer shorts and underwear, for men and women, available online.

An extra incentive to ditch the black, white or grey boxers was that Oddballs would donate 10 per cent of each sale to help combat testicular cancer.

The website ( launched in 2014, and with celebrity endorsements from the likes of Alan Shearer and Mike Tindall, word quickly spread.

Oddballs Apparel Limited is expected to turnover £750,000 by the end of the year and the company has already made its first charitable donation.

Steve, Richard and Paul are now looking to grow the company by expanding into flip-flops, swim shorts and rugby tops, and are in talks with major retailers. Their aim is to achieve £3 million turnover by 2017 and a recent investment of £225,000 awarded by NEL Fund Managers Limited should help them to reach that goal.

The three men are also in the process of creating The Oddballs Foundation, and have recently begun working with men’s health charity Movember.

Oddball’s founders want to raise awareness of testicular cancer and, as of next month, each pair of Oddball boxers will have a ‘check yourself’ guide on its packaging.

Steve reveals: “We’ve already had someone get in touch who saw one of our campaigns and subsequently found something which turned out to be testicular cancer. It’s been diagnosed at the earliest possible time and his prognosis is good. For me, that’s worth all the money in the world.”

The success of Oddballs means that Steve is always on the lookout for his next business opportunity, and he was recently offered a stake in a digital sex toy company.

“I think I’ve built up quite a respectable reputation so I politely declined – even though the business plan looked very attractive,” he says with a grin.

But the goalkeeper from Easington, Co Durham, who made 277 appearances for six professional football clubs over his career, isn’t finished with sport yet.

Steve has his Level 4 UEFA A coaching licence and will be a fully qualified youth coach by Christmas. He is also one of only a few ex-professional footballers who is a qualified referee, and is a regular pundit on television and radio.

“Having been in football for 22 years, the natural progression is into coaching,” Steve reflects.

“People have talked to me about management, which is a long way off, but it does appeal. That said, the business world appeals to me, too.

“Right now, I’m keeping my options open.”

Steve Harper owns a 25 per cent stake in Oddballs Apparel Ltd which offers men’s, women’s and youth boxer shorts, underwear and accessories, while raising funds and awareness to combat testicular cancer.