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Thompson Exclusive: From Man Utd to Rochdale - and beating cancer twice

Joe Thompson made international headlines last year when his late goal against Charlton kept Rochdale in League One. Not because ESPN were interested in the Dale's future. But because their new hero had an incredible story to tell.


A troubled family life, with his mother spending time in psychiatric hospital and father in prison; signed by Manchester United at age nine before being released at 16; and then, diagnosed with cancer at the age of 23.

The day was Wednesday October 23. A day that Joe Thompson says he'll never forget. A day when he was told he had Hodgkins Lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer that was already in an advanced stage. Thompson would beat the disease, only to be diagnosed again three years later.

Thompson touches on these moments, and many more, in his at times heart-wrenching and harrowing, but ultimately uplifting and inspiring new autobiography, Darkness and Light:My Story.

The book contains numerous moments, words and anecdotes that would make you believe it was a work of fiction. It is truly a must-read, not only to hear Thompson's story, but also as a tool to gain perspective on your own life.

Unbeknownst to Thompson, Darkness and Light began when he started, on the recommendation of his manager, to write down notes during treatment in order to give his family an honest reflection on his thoughts and emotions in case anything happened.

After beating cancer for a second time in 2017, Thompson's story was covered in February this year by FourFourTwo, just before he played against Tottenham in the FA Cup at Wembley. The journalist who interviewed Thompson, Alec Fenn, knew he had a story that needed be heard, eventually helping to write Darkness and Light. And Thompson says revisiting the toughest moments of his life was a difficult process.

“It came from a sad and dark place in a way," he says. “I spoke to my agent when I was there and he thought and myself thought it was quite a good idea to write down some notes just in case, not only for my wife to read, but my mum and maybe my daughter later on in life and I was always mindful that I wanted to be as honest as possible with my family, and I was probably only brutally honest with my agent and my brother.

“I think looking at it now in hindsight you could say it was quite cathartic, quite therapeutic, but it was, it was tough to go back especially certain incidents and life issues, but I think speaking with Alex and the publisher, they realised it was all part of my journey and they got to know me and things that I needed to work out myself as well.

"It was quite crazy at times going over quite emotional situations but I know I had to speak with my family and my mum in particular cause I think it was quite tough for her because when you write it down and it's in black and white in front of you, you think, wow I've overcome quite a lot in a short amount of time in a way."


With his story having connected with not only cancer survivors, but people facing challenges in all walks of life, Thompson hopes he can continue to spread positivity after he retires from football.

“I'm a really positive guy and I try to be at all times when I'm in and around people to try and make an impact to make their life better I've done public speaking and motivational speaking and I think once I decide to finish with football it will be something that I will go into. I really enjoy it and I see the satisfaction people get from it and I also know a lot of people can relate to it not even cancer in general because cancer affects 1 in 3 so you know at some point someone's going to be affected by it.

“But there's elements in my life that I can talk especially to younger ones and mentor in a way. I've had lots of opportunities and people coming up to me and asking to come into workplaces and businesses just to basically spread positivity as much as possible and that's what I'm trying to do. I enjoy it. Everyday can be different so that's probably the path I want to go down because I can see the results in a way which is something I take great satisfaction out of."

After all Thompson had been through, it was a miracle that he would play football again.

True to his fighting and confident spirit, the Bath native made ten appearances before the final game of last season, when he came off the bench in the second-half to score a goal that will be etched in Rochdale folklore.

“It was unbelievable, I'm very, very proud and very, very humbled to have lived out that moment and I know it meant so much to so many people, not just with the football club but just people in general, I think a lot of people who have suffered from cancer, that moment gave them hope that they could go on and it probably empowered a lot of people who were struggling I would say."

Fast forward to now and Thompson is struggling with a hamstring injury that has troubled him for sometime. But as always, the 29-year-old sees the bright side of his situation.

“Its like anything if you put it into perspective, I've gotten over worse and I'll keep plugging away and keep working hard and hopefully in due time it will recover. I understand the treatment I've had as well, when it comes to recovery, I don't recover as quick as I used too.

"But I think I'd rather be here with a hamstring injury than not be here at all."


To purchase Darkness and Light: My Story (Pitch Publishing) by Joe Thompson with Alec Fenn, click here.


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Andrew Maclean
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Andrew Maclean

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