Introducing Throwback, a new history podcast from Sports Illustrated. Season 1 chronicles the first Women's World Cup in 1991

By Grant Wahl
May 02, 2019

Why did I want to do a Sports Illustrated podcast series telling the story of the 1991 Women’s World Cup and the pioneering U.S. team that played in it? For starters, I wanted to learn more about an important moment in the history of American soccer, a story that has been significantly under-told over the years. Nearly everyone knows about the ‘99 World Cup, won by the U.S., and the indelible images that came with it: Brandi Chastain celebrating in her sports bra, Briana Scurry saving the penalty, Kristine Lilly heading the ball off the line. Entire movies have been made about the ’99 U.S. team and the transcendent cultural impact of their triumph.

For most people, women’s soccer started in 1999. Few soccer fans even know there was a FIFA Women’s World Cup in ‘91—the first one ever held—or that the U.S. team that played in China had many of the same figures who would become superstars in ’99. Players like Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Lilly. I covered the ’99 World Cup from start to finish for SI, but if I’m being honest I was pretty clueless about what happened in ’91, which was shown in the U.S. via tape delay on an obscure cable TV channel. So earlier this year, I started doing interviews with a wide range of people involved in the ’91 Women’s World Cup.

This podcast series—Throwback—is an origin story on the beginnings of the U.S. women’s national team and the Women’s World Cup itself. It’s a story of how the U.S. women—wearing hand-me-down men’s uniforms and earning zero salary from U.S. Soccer—went from being thoroughly outclassed in their first tournament in 1985 to becoming a powerhouse in just six years. It’s also the story of how FIFA, after totally ignoring women’s soccer for decades, finally got its act together to stage a women’s world soccer championship.

The voices of all the major 1991 figures are in this podcast series. There are the ones who would go on to win in ’99 (including Akers, Hamm, Foudy and Lilly). There are the ones who didn’t play in ’99 but were stars in ’91 (like Carin Jennings-Gabarra, April Heinrichs and Shannon Higgins-Cirovski). There are the inimitable U.S. coach (Anson Dorrance), the heated Norwegian rival (Linda Medalen) and even the notorious ex-FIFA official who made cringe-inducing statements about women’s soccer but actually takes great pride in having started the FIFA Women’s World Cup (Sepp Blatter). 

I’ve learned an incredible amount about the ’91 Women’s World Cup and the U.S. team from doing this podcast series. And I think you will too.

Subscribe to Throwback for free on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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