There and back again: Our Team Lead’s journey to Project Neon 

Sven Houston
jun 24
8 min read

It’s February 24th, 2018. 15 or so minutes have passed since the full-time whistle sounded at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland. Rangers have beaten Hearts 2-0 in the Scottish Premiership and 50,000 supporters are filtering out of Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland. Their chants are just about audible from my position outside the Hearts dressing room, located just a few meters away from the famous marble staircase that dominates the entrance hall of the old Ibrox brick stand.

In my right hand: A teamsheet listing the names of the Hearts players who featured in the match. In hushed voices, me and my colleague Phil go through the unenviable process of deciding which players we should feed to the media for the post-match debrief. Then there’s the small matter of waiting for the manager to emerge from the dressing room and what brief to give him before he enters a press room packed with TV cameras and reporters, all keen to get his thoughts on a defeat.

Then there’s the small matter of having to actually convince the players to speak to the media. Trust me, when they’ve just been booed off by thousands of supporters, it’s the last thing they want to do. In my role as Head of Marketing, it’s my job to tell them they need to do it. Some get creative and sneak out the back door, others opt for the element of surprise and burst out, seamlessly transitioning into a sprint down the corridor to avoid you. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to clamber on to the team bus and drag them players off it.

On this afternoon, however, the familiar game of cat and mouse was interrupted by a text message from my wife Lee: “I think my contractions have started.”

I know it’s at least a one-hour drive home. Plus it’ll take at least 20 minutes to get out of the car park due to the crowds. At this point, I’m willing to put the kit man up for media duties if it means getting out of there quickly.

Thankfully, the door swings open. The manager, Craig Levein, emerges.

He stops, sighs and nods. It’s dejected football manager language for: Let’s get media over and done with.

My colleague Phil blurts out: “Sven’s wife’s about to go into labour.”

Mr Levein nods. “I’ll be quick.”

True to his word, we were out of there in no time and I was able to whisk Lee off to the hospital for the birth of my first son, Isak.

Football has been such a big part of my life, both privately and professionally, that it was almost inevitable that I find myself in a football setting at the start of such a big life moment. Secondly, the arrival of Isak – and later my daughter Emilia – is one of the key reasons why I find myself here at Project Neon today.

I’m Sven and, if you’re still with me after that mammoth intro, you may be interested to know that I’m the Team Lead here at Project Neon. I work with the team across all our clients, and together we ensure we deliver a first-class marketing and communications service.

My journey here, to borrow a phrase from Bilbo Baggins, has a bit of a ‘There and back again’ feel to it.

Born in Edinburgh to a Scottish father and Norwegian mother, I moved to Stavanger at an early age and grew up here in the Norwegian oil capital. In short, I had a fantastic childhood. As a kid of the 80s, I got to grow up in a world without social media: It was friends, outdoor play, football, Nintendo 64 and MTV Europe as the default background soundtrack to my homework.

Aged 15, me and my family left the fjords behind in favour of the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Calgary, the oil boomtown in Western Canada, was to be my home for the next four years as I completed high school and spent my winters on the world class ski slopes of the Rockies, a mere one-hour drive from the house. Leaving your friends and school behind at 15 is tough but it turned out to be a life experience that I wouldn’t change for the world.

A return home soon beckoned, albeit this time to my other home – Edinburgh. Four years of journalism studies at Edinburgh Napier University followed. In June 2009, I found myself holding a degree – but with no real desire to be a journalist!

I soon bid farewell to my colleagues at Biddy Mulligans Irish Bar (a great bunch of colleagues, might I add – so much so that I ended up marrying one of them.) My first step was a role with a media monitoring company. Now, this was old school media monitoring: We got every local print newspaper in Scotland delivered to us every week and, armed with a list of client names and key words, we would sit at a desk with a highlighter and pick out every mention of them – or topics they were interested in. Next, we’d manually scan in every page, upload and tag to an online system and then send to the client as part of a weekly monitoring report. It was tedious and tiresome, but if nothing else, it greatly improved my reading speed and eye for detail!

A few years as a Content Creator at a Marketing Agency followed before, in 2015, my part-time role with Heart of Midlothian Football Club turned into a full-time position as Digital Media Executive.

What followed was an 8-year rollercoaster. I eventually moved up to a Head of Marketing role, leading on everything from Season Ticket campaigns to the design process behind selecting new kits, managing our full digital media output, producing social media content, arranging and running press conferences, leading fan experience initiatives and – oh, the small matter of editing the 68-page magazine we published for every home game. It was long hours and no weekends – and no shortage of travelling. Mainly around Scotland, mind you – but there was the odd perk. Playing in European competitions meant first class travel: Private airport terminals, private luxury planes and police escorts through the streets of Istanbul, to name but a few.

I learned a lot. Not least the importance of protecting the legacy and values of a brand – in this case, 150-year-old football club. People change banks, cars, jobs, partners – even gender! But you never change your football team. It’s a sense of belonging and for many, it’s part of their identity. We had supporters living across the street from the stadium, and ones living in in far flung places around the world – it was our job to keep them connected to one of their big passions in life.

I also got to experience football during Covid. Every game was played in front of an empty stadium. We even pumped fake crowd noise through the speakers in order to add some atmosphere (it ended up sounding like static whale song). It was a bizarre, downright depressing year – with cardboard cut-outs of fans jotted around the stadium. You could hear every kick of the ball, every word exchanged between players. And when a goal was scored – which would typically prompt the stadium to erupt with noise – there was silence bar a few muted cheers from the players.– for several months, we were limited to 1 hour of outdoor time per day (beyond your garden). A strange time to live through – and thankfully one my kids won’t remember.

That neatly brings me back to my children. Scotland was great for us, however, I always had a desire to return to Stavanger. And with my wife being from Shetland (basically halfway between Scotland and Norway), she was also more than keen to explore life in the Nordics. There are few places in the world that can rival Norway when it comes to standard of living and raising a family, so we made the decision to put the wheels in motion for a move.

Thankfully, a door opened itself at Project Neon and I returned home, family in tow, in May 2023 – almost 22 years to the day that I left for Canada. I have family here and, thanks to the power of MSN Messenger in those early 2000s, I’ve never lost touch with my old network of friends over here – we’re as close now as we were in those early days crowded round a TV for a 4-way game of GoldenEye on the N64.

The past 12 months have been a learning curve, going from football to working for an agency with deep roots in the Oil and Gas industry. It’s been fascinating so far and, surrounded by a great team, I’m excited for what lies ahead.

Plus, I still have my beloved Viking FK for my football fix…

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