Phoebe Schecter, Chicago Bears Launch Manchester’s First Girls Only Flag Football League

By Simon Carroll

American Football in the UK is no longer a fleeting moment – it’s here to stay. As the game grows rapidly on these shores, The Touchdown was invited to a special day in Greater Manchester to witness the introduction of a new initiative aimed at giving young children even more exposure to the sport:

Breaking Ground

When we talk about ‘grassroots football’, we’re usually referring to the sport with the round ball; dirty football boots on cold Sunday mornings, halftime oranges and parents standing on the sidelines as children run around in ill-fitting kits attempting to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo. But today it’s the other football – OUR football, American football – that is benefitting from significant investment amongst youths.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Bears, alongside Britain’s first female coach in the NFL, Phoebe Schecter, launched the first ever girls only flag football league in Manchester. Part of a worldwide drive to introduce young women between the ages of 12 and 14 to engage with a new sport, the NFL Franchise and Sky Sports pundit teamed together at Bolton School to kick off the league with a number of high school teams in attendance.

There couldn’t be a better pairing to spearhead this campaign in Manchester. After gaining marketing rights to the United Kingdom in 2022, The Chicago Bears, alongside the New York Jets, launched a similar league in London last year – the first of its kind in this country. They recently came back over to celebrate its anniversary and welcome a second season in the capital, and are now looking to spread the initiative to other areas of the UK.

Meanwhile, Schecter is no stranger to coaching; probably best known for her time in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills, Phoebe is dedicated to growing the game in this country and opening up pathways within the sport to young women. She does this through her company ‘The UK Dukes’, working with Coach Kenny Bello to deliver coaching sessions, increase exposure and offer more opportunity to what is a growing but still niche sport this side of the Atlantic.

Olympic Ambitions

Coach Phoebe Schecter addressing some of the participants

Flag football is becoming a familiar sight on a school’s sport curriculum. A non-contact version of the game we all love watching on Sundays, it’s an excellent entry point for children of all ages to football – but also is played at a distinctly high level by adults too. So much so that the sport will be introduced to the Olympics from 2028, where it will debut in Los Angeles. Four years from now, those games offer a real goal for some of the talented children showcasing their abilities on Wednesday to represent their country. 

Phoebe Schecter was born in America, but her own football journey began in Manchester little more than a decade ago. Speaking with her at the launch, you could sense a real humility and pride at what this event represents:

“You know, it’s so full circle for me. I think back, it was only back in February 2013 I was trying football for my first ever time. And there wasn’t really opportunities for girls back then. That was the one team that I knew about, and there were only three in the country at that time. So to see where it’s grown, to see the opportunities… who would have thought? I never imagined the Bears would be here running girls only football leagues. There’s no words for it, it’s just so heartwarming to look around and see this. I feel so fulfilled.”

Whilst the Olympics may be something in these girls’ futures, it’s important to remember that these leagues offer a lot more to anyone participating. Whilst Phoebe was a trailblazer and had to find her own path to participation in football, she’s delighted to be a part of making pathways more accessible now:

“Ultimately, you don’t even know what roles or jobs or opportunities in football are out there until you’ve experienced them. BY having things like this, like live football, well now you know you can be a coach, you can be an official. We’ve got amazing women here from the NFL who work in community relations, who work with alumni, marketing – there are countless roles to pursue. It’s about having that awareness to know that you can do it, because people are already doing it. Just dream it and you can achieve it.”


Super Bowl-winning Bears defensive back Shaun Gayle

The Bears were leaving no stone unturned in their determination to kick off this new venture with a bang, bringing along a Super Bowl champion to the party. Shaun Gayle was a safety on the famous ‘85 Bears team that hoisted the Lombardi for the only time in the franchise’s history, so he knows a few things about what it takes to be a winner. Proudly wearing his Super Bowl ring as he gave a speech to the young women  in attendance, Gayle was delighted to be a part of delivering something new to the North West, and opening eyes in the same way children across America first experience football:

“I think this is the only way to do it really. It’s as simple as introducing these kids to a new sport, and love for any game begins with being out there with your mates having a good time. That’s the easiest way to plant the seed of this great sport and get things rolling. Kicking off a league like this, it gives them that opportunity to begin a journey that could take them anywhere they want.”

For Gayle, football gave him a whole lot more than that big rock on his finger. He was just as excited for the skills that the sport can bring to children off the field, as well as on it:

“Football is so much more than a sport, it teaches values of being a part of a team. It’s one thing to be happy, getting that gratification of calling yourself a champion, but it gives you much more. The process of leaving it all out on the field and embracing what it takes to get there, there’s life lessons everywhere. Believing in yourself, holding each other accountable, all these things you get from team sports that, a couple of years ago, might not have been available to these young women.”

I’m being careful not to show my age here, but too many years ago when I attended All Hallows High School in Preston, my generation’s exposure to American Football was limited to mashing buttons on a Mega Drive with no knowledge of what we were trying to achieve. Watching that very same school win a game of flag football in front of my own eyes was a surreal but special moment. If the young women playing today got half as much out of it as I did, then Olympic medals aren’t just dreams – they’re achievable goals.

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