May 31, 2024

SheSportTech Spotlight: Gemma Thompson’s path to Manchester United

Exactly 28 years after entering a competition for a chance to work for the club, Gemma Thompson was on an Old Trafford billboard. This is her incredible story.

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  • When it came to her dream job at Manchester United, Gemma Thompson wouldn’t take no for an answer. “I just used to contact the club magazine team every week,” she tells me, “Asking, could I come in again to help with anything in the office?” 

    And it paid off: these days, Gemma works as the club’s Senior Talent and Player Access Manager, using technology in a role at the intersection of media, celebrity and press – an “ever-changing landscape” as she describes it.  When we were thinking about possible role models for our SheSportTech pathway, she was an obvious choice.    

    In case you missed it, SheSportTech is an initiative designed to get more women into sport tech. While the landscape has changed in recent years, sport tech – like tech in general – is still a male-dominated field. With the help of role models like Gemma, we want to help change that. 

    But Gemma’s story is special. For that reason, we thought it would be nice to catch up with her again and learn about her inspirational path to SheSportTech.  

    “I was just obsessed with football”

    Gemma’s start in sport technology was at 14, when she read a feature in the official club magazine on what it was like to be a sports journalist covering Manchester United. As part of the feature, readers were invited to enter a match report competition.

    Because Eric Cantona was (and is) her hero, Gemma chose to write about Manchester United’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool in October 1995. This was a decisive match: Cantona’s first game after his suspension earlier that year. 
    She sent it off with a letter (see below) and didn't hear anything back. 

    Still determined to find a way into the club, Gemma managed to organize some work experience for herself. Ringing up to confirm it, she found out she had won the match report competition.

    After a brilliant week’s work experience, she knew it was the job she had always dreamt of. "I just used to contact the club magazine team every week,” she says, “asking, could I come in again and help with anything in the office?”

    While still in school, Gemma started writing for the magazine more often, faxing in mini-match reports off her own back every weekend in the hope the odd one would be published.

    Later, the club asked her to write a monthly feature about memorable matches from years gone by. For this, she was paid £60. "That was so much money then!” she says, "I was just buzzing about the fact my work was getting printed.” 

    While still in school, all her schoolwork was about United. When she finally finished school, she deferred entry to university for a year to work as an assistant producer at Manchester United TV – the club’s in-house TV channel – under her friend Emma, who had taken Gemma under her wing at the magazine and since moved on to work at the channel.

    For the next three years after that, Gemma continued working at the club between lectures at Salford University where she studied Journalism and English.

    "I was producing shows, working with club legends and going out on shoots as a reporter ...  I mean, I was probably doing stuff I was not qualified to do, but it was all about learning on the job and I was game for anything. And I knew I had the knowledge and the passion for the club to back it up. That was the main thing.” 

    During university and after graduating, Gemma continued doing work for the club as well as freelancing for Shoot and FourFourTwo magazines and attending Sir Alex Ferguson’s weekly press conferences as the Manchester United correspondent for national sports newspaper Sport First, before getting her full-time role at the club in October 2003. And “the rest is history,” she says.

    Life at Manchester United

    Over the years, Gemma has done a range of roles at Manchester United. Her tenure has included 10 years working under Sir Alex Ferguson, travelling the world on pre-season tours and European trips, and covering the team’s glorious night in Moscow in May 2008 when United won a third European Cup.  
    These days, her work is mostly focused on her liaison and operational role between the media and press office teams as well as managing the club’s celebrity linkups at Old Trafford and across the world, as well as lots more besides. 

    “Every day is different and there is always something exciting going on. We all work extremely hard, and I love everything about my role and the club – it’s an honor and privilege to be able to do what I do for the club I love.” 

    For her, it’s about never losing touch with that young girl who always dreamed of working at Manchester United. On a day-to-day level, this means giving everything and always working as a team. “You never want to lose how lucky you are every day,” she says. 

    On 2 April 2024, Gemma got to see her image – alongside the other role models – on a stadium-sized billboard across the front of Old Trafford as part of the SheSportTech campaign. “It was one of the highlights of my life,” she beams.  
    Coming home afterwards, Gemma found that first letter that launched her career in sport technology. The date? 2nd of April 1996 – so, exactly 28 years before. Almost like it was meant to be. “I just looked at the letter and I thought, that's mad,” she says, “but I love stuff like that and how things are sometimes just meant to be.”   

    The need for mentorship for women in sport tech

    As a role model for SheSportTech, Gemma is perfectly placed to pass on the wisdom she’s gained from her 21 years at Manchester United. 
    And this is something she returns to, again and again, when talking about her work; mentioning, in particular, the positive influence of her colleague Emma, who gave her first break at the club magazine and then MUTV. Working with Emma, she was inspired to keep chasing her dream. Because she saw that it could be done.  
    All of which is to say, representation and mentorship counts. If you can see it, you can be it, after all. 

    Why not get involved?

    Gemma’s amazing story reminds us that there most definitely is a place for women in sport technology. With perseverance, passion, and the right support, it is possible for women to make a huge contribution in this still male-dominated field.  
    If this story inspired you, maybe sport tech is the field for you. These days, the field is a vibrant and growing one – stretching across marketing, to cybersecurity, engineering and much more besides.  
    So, if you’re passionate about sport and technology, there’s still time to enter the SheSportTech pathway. Applications close on the 30th of June.

    Who knows? You might find yourself on a billboard at Old Trafford someday.