Joe Thompson

Thompson: How I beat cancer and kept my club up

One of football's most inspirational stories has been told on MUTV by the brave man at the centre of it, former Manchester United youth player Joe Thompson.

Now retired and forging a new career in media and motivational talking, he spent most of his playing career with Carabao Cup opponents, Rochdale, the club he made his professional debut for in 2006. When he returned there in 2016, after four years away playing for the likes of Tranmere Rovers, Bury and Carlisle United, Joe did so as a survivor of Hodgkin's lymphoma, a rare form of cancer. 

Thompson would eventually have to beat the life-threatening condition for a second time, before making a successful return to the pitch for Rochdale and scoring the goal that saved the League One club from relegation on the final day of the 2017/18 season.

The ex-Red who twice overcame cancerVideo

“It was Christmas Eve [2016]. The doctor noticed something different on one of my routine scans and he told me it was a tumour, of the same cancer. It had come back and it was showing quite aggressive signs of spreading,”
recalls Thompson, in an interview with Danny Webber for MUTV.

“They said they didn’t want to hit me with a load of chemotherapy straightaway, so for a period, I played on and that was tough. It lasted for four months and I finished playing away at MK Dons [in March 2017]. The game just passed me by and I felt like I was in slow motion.”


Incredibly, Thompson was fit enough 14 months later to come on as a substitute and net the only goal of Rochdale’s vital – in a football sense – 1-0 home win over Charlton Athletic.
“After 65 minutes I was [still] on the bench and I was a bit miffed off because I wanted to go out there and affect it,”
he admits.

“It was either us or Oldham that got relegated so I wanted to be in control of my destiny but also our destiny. [That goal] was my present to the lads and to the club for supporting me and sticking by me. 

“It was kind of the ultimate survival story. I had survived cancer not once but twice. Football is a game and it's a game that everybody loves but I think the emotion that day obviously transmitted and everybody saw it on TV. Anybody that was in the ground understood what had been achieved.
Joe Thompson celebrates with his family and Rochdale fans after the club's decisive win in May 2018
Joe's heroic winning goal kept Rochdale in League One back in May 2018.
“It was a proud moment for my family. All the sacrifice and the hard work I had put in had come to fruition. For me to live out that moment was clarity and peace in a way.”


Although he was only at United until he was 16, Thompson credits the club for the way he conducted himself throughout his career and maintains that he still holds good habits from his time as a Reds prospect, when he developed under coaches such as Mark Dempsey, Paul McGuinness and Tony Whelan.

“Tony had a strong handshake! That was always waiting for you, whether it was at The Cliff or at Carrington later on,”
remembers the 30-year-old.
Joe Thompson
Watch the full interview with Joe on MUTV's Match Day show.

“They taught me so much. Their standards were the standards that I try to uphold myself on a day-to-day basis, whether that's punctuality or the way you present yourself. You've got to make sure you present yourself in the right way.

“As I've grown older, I've realised what I was taught on the pitch, granted, but also so much of what I was taught off it by the coaches along the way. I can never really thank them enough for what they taught me on and off the pitch.”

You can watch the full in-depth interview with Joe Thompson on MUTV, during build-up to the Rochdale game from 18:30 BST this evening (Wednesday).

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