Polly Bancroft: The first head of women's football at the biggest club in the world

Image design by Matthew Burt
Image design by Matthew Burt /

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Manchester United began advertising a head of women’s football job in December 2021, a first for the club as they tried to realise their ambition of becoming a force in the women’s game following a relatively late arrival to the party a little over three years earlier.

Just under eight months and much careful deliberation later, United decided Brighton Women general manager Polly Bancroft was the right person for the job. In the second half of October 2022, having served a notice period with the Seagulls, she got to work.

Prior to that, United had been operating for four years with a de facto general manager whose primary responsibility at the club lay elsewhere, achieving everything they had done up to that point without a dedicated head of women’s football.

That made Bancroft’s arrival all the more momentous when it happened, a historic moment at an important time – the optimistic first chapter with Casey Stoney as manager had come to an end quite suddenly in 2021 and United had still been trying to find themselves in the women’s game.

Having tried challenge the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City but consistently fallen just short, getting the correct behind the scenes structures in place was a vital step towards becoming a genuine contender – first in England, then beyond.

It was the opportunity for United to make sustainable progress after initial rapid growth.

Bancroft is not just someone hidden away in a back office at Old Trafford or Carrington. She is a visible presence and quickly became actively involved with the team and forging relationships with the players. Her role has also taken some of the burden off first-team manager Marc Skinner, who was heavily involved in strategising and planning during his maiden season.

Marc Skinner
Man Utd boss Marc Skinner has spoken highly of Bancroft / Matt McNulty/GettyImages

Shortly after Bancroft arrived in the north west, Skinner said: “She’s super intelligent in the forward-thinking processes of the club.”

Meanwhile, football director John Murtough referred to her as the ‘extra ingredient’ he hoped would take the club’s women’s operation to the next level ‘both on and off the pitch’.

In her own words, Bancroft described in November the ‘broad remit’ has been given to lead United’s women’s football division at all levels of the club. Her primary duties are to support Skinner and the first-team, serving as a link between the women and the football hierarchy – she has near daily conversations with Murtough in that respect.

But Bancroft additionally supports the seven other women’s teams that United operate. There is also an element in her job of ensuring the ongoing integration of women’s football into the wider club, liaising with legal, commercial and marketing departments to ensure that women’s and girls’ teams are always being kept in the plans.

She is further tasked with working with external stakeholders such as the FA, broadcasters and even being a point of contact for the official Supporters’ Club.



"She’s super intelligent in the forward-thinking processes of the club."

Marc Skinner, on Polly Bancroft

Bancroft brought a great deal of experience and expertise from a variety of roles to United. She worked for three years as a project manager with the FA, before joining UEFA as a business development specialist. Her two years as Brighton general manager coincided with the club’s growth into an established WSL side, while she was also a major figure in the Seagulls developing an £8.5m training facility for its women’s team that opened in 2021. At United, facilities have been a source of criticism, but investment in new facilities for the women at Carrington is ongoing.

Yet Bancroft is also an advocate of developing women’s football in its own way. “I'm really mindful that women's football shouldn't be a copy and paste of the men’s," she told the Telegraph in November, highlighting work to be done in areas like medical support, nutrition and injury prevention and treatment when so much of the research that exists has been male-oriented.

While the specifics may change and be tailored towards women’s football, Bancroft is aware of the history and power within global football that surrounds her. She still wants to develop United Women in the ‘United way’ – the core philosophies that have underpinned how the club has operated for decades. It is the drive for silverware and being competitive at every level, but also doing it a certain and always developing the next generation of players too.

As someone who has dedicated their career to the furtherment and development of women’s football, Bancroft is now in a position of huge power and influence, taking everything that she has learned and overseen into the biggest club of all: “…the power of the brand and the opportunity to do good with the power of that brand, regionally, nationally and internationally.”

Career history

  • Women & Girls football development officer - West Riding county FA
  • Senior football development officer - Birmingham county FA
  • Activity & sustainability advisor - Football foundation
  • Women's Under-17 head coach - Leeds United
  • Women's football national project manager - The FA
  • Business development specialist - UEFA
  • General manager - Brighton & Hove Albion
  • Head of women's football - Manchester United