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Abby Wambach on Exploring Some of Soccer’s Unbelievable History in ESPN+ Series ‘Abby’s Places’

In which she learns the very unusual thing people used as a ball in the medieval era

Abby Wambach is uncovering more than you – or the legendary athlete herself – ever knew about soccer – or football as the rest of the world calls it – in “Abby’s Places” on ESPN+.

The first episode form Part 2 of the two-time gold medalist and member of the 2015 Women’s World Cup-winning U.S. team’s series dropped on Wednesday. The delightful program finds the soccer star doing a deep dive into the history of the game. And that includes learning about its head-splitting medieval roots.

“The things that I’ve learned about soccer/football are innumerable,” Wambach told TheWrap. “I mean, I pretend to be this expert, but like so many of the things that I showcase on my show is in fact stuff that I had learned in the process of prepping for these episodes.”

And one of those things was that in the medieval period, as there were no sporting goods stores with a variety of multicolored soccer balls available for purchase, people played what came to be known as soccer with something else.

“I was on the field in San Diego when I was shooting this episode with Landon [Donovan] and we were discussing the evolution of the ball. And so back in medieval times, they used to use human skulls as the actual form of this ball,” Wambach adding she’s “more than grateful” to have started “playing soccer in a time where it was plastics and rubber in the form of balls that we were using.”

Donovan isn’t the only star that crops up in the back half of Wambach’s series. She also spends some time with Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, a co-owner of Austin FC, and Britain’s Kelly Smith, a rival on the pitch from Wambach’s playing days.

“When we were in London, I was like, ‘I have to have Kelly. I have to have this person who–’ … I would say Kelly Smith was maybe one of the most difficult opponents we ever had to defend because she was so good and had so many different skill sets,” Wambach recounts of the forward who played on England’s national soccer team opposite Team USA. 

“You know, sometimes some of those players come to play and you can’t do anything about it. And Kelly was one of those players. So, I wanted to have her on our show,” Wambach added. 

Abby Wambach, Glennon Doyle in "Abby's Places" (Bryce McDonald)
Abby Wambach, Glennon Doyle in “Abby’s Places” (Bryce McDonald)

Featuring a diverse group of guests across the series, including women, and more specifically women of color, was a goal of Wambach’s as she worked to really uncover the history of the beautiful game.

“I wanted to showcase that there is a really thick and storied history that not just our women’s national team in the U.S. have but women throughout the whole of the world,” she said.

It’s only fitting then that Wambach’s second season comes out as Title IX, the piece of legislation that prohibits discrimination based on sex in any school or institution that receives federal funds, and which changed the game for female athletes, turns 50. It’s legislation the advocate and athlete benefitted from and has been vocal about.

“I always want to be mindful of the women and the men who did all of the work 50 years ago to give us even the possibility of hosting your own television show to be even having this conversation around, right? And I think that it shows that there’s so much progress that has been made over the last 50 years. It’s a beautiful story, to tell it from that perspective, but I also want to be very conscious that we still have so much more work to do,” Wambach said. “So it’s a beautiful day to celebrate, but also, it’s — for me — what feels like almost the halfway point to where we probably should be.”

The key art for the ESPN+ series "Abby's Places"
The key art for the ESPN+ series “Abby’s Places”

Beyond the history of the game “Abby’s Places” also visits locales important to the game. The latest run of episodes sees her visit the hallowed halls of Old Trafford. It’s not only where Manchester United play, but it has particular significance for Wambach herself.

“I was lucky enough to actually be the first woman to ever score a goal in Old Trafford during the 2012 London Olympics. We played a game there and it happened to be the first women’s game ever played there. And so I ended up scoring that first goal. So that, to me, the stadium has more meaning than just what most people would appreciate about Old Trafford being like the home of Manchester United,” Wambach said. “And so being back there, because we ended up winning the gold medal in London that year, and so it was just really — it’s just an extraordinary place.”

“Abby’s Places” is produced by NFL Films in collaboration with ESPN+. The series is executive produced by Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions.

Catch “Abby’s Places” now on ESPN+.

Glennon Doyle, Shannon Boxx, Shannon MacMillan, Lorrie Fair in "Abby's Places" (Bryce McDonald)
Glennon Doyle, Shannon Boxx, Shannon MacMillan, Lorrie Fair in “Abby’s Places” (Bryce McDonald)

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