The game will go on without Sinclair, but it will never be the same
In a matter of seconds, Christine Sinclair’s career with the Canadian national team was over.
Her No. 12 emblazoned on a neon sign indicated the end. It was time for her to walk off the field one last time.
But then a remarkable thing happened. The game went on. Everything continued as if nothing had happened.
The team will go on. The game will go on. But it will never be the same.
After the match, Canadian players past and present gathered at centre field to sing Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love,” a former pseudo-anthem for the national team. And the lyrics from another Canadian icon proved fitting:
“We're heading for something. Somewhere I've never been. Sometimes I am frightened. But I'm ready to learn.”
We are headed into the unknown. A monumental shift occurred 12 minutes into the second half of the international friendly against Australia, in front of more than 48,000 screaming spectators at BC Place (rebranded Christine Sinclair Place for the occasion).
The greatest goal scorer of all-time would not be seen on the international stage again. One hundred and ninety goals is the final number, a record which may prove to be unbreakable.
The career of the Canadian captain with 331 caps – another lofty number that may never be reached again – was over. It was a poignant moment, but one that also felt somewhat anti-climactic.
For 23 years, Sinclair has delivered moment after moment for this country, whether it was her hat trick in the semifinals of the London Olympics, or her clutch penalty on home soil at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to a woman who has represented Canada selflessly for more than two decades. The 70-odd seconds it took her to leave the pitch wasn’t enough time to applaud everything she has done for this country.
There were, of course, moments before the match on Tuesday where fans showed their thanks to Sinclair. As she ran onto the field, with her nieces by her side, the cheers from the record-setting crowd reverberated around the stadium. As O Canada was belted, Sinclair joined in, her eyes filling with tears as she sang the anthem one final time in uniform.
As I looked around the stadium at all the little girls and boys screaming Sinclair’s name, the magnitude of the moment hit me.
My infant daughter will never know what it’s like to watch Sinclair play. She’ll only know the stories I tell her of this legendary player who was ours.
It’s hard to fathom, considering so many fans, so many national team players, have only known the Canadian women’s team with Sinclair on it.
But the legend herself perhaps said it best when speaking to TSN’s Claire Hanna after the game: ‘’It’s not ending just because I’m retiring from the national team.”
In many ways, it’s not ending because of her.
She paved the wave for the national team, raising the level of her teammates and leading them to unprecedented heights: back-to-back-to-back Olympic podiums, culminating with gold in Tokyo.
She inspired the next generation along the way. As I walked to the various stadiums for these last few games of her international career – in Montreal, in Langford, B.C., and Vancouver – I noticed how many fans had Sinclair’s name on the back of their jerseys. Canadians travelled from the corners of this country for one last chance to watch Sinclair.
“At London in 2012, our goal was to inspire a generation. Looking around this stadium, seeing all the young girls, all the young boys – it’s like mission accomplished,” Sinclair told Hanna.
My daughter may never be able to see Sinclair play live, but because of this Canadian legend, she can choose to pursue a career in soccer. She can watch the national team play in sold-out stadiums on home soil. She can idolize other Canadian global stars like Ashley Lawrence and Jessie Fleming and sport their names on the back of her jersey.
Sinclair may be gone – and if she has it her way, we may never hear from her again – but her legacy is immortal. Canadian soccer has irrevocably changed because of her.
In Sinclair’s penultimate game in Langford, a sign was featured prominently in the stands, one that encapsulates this moment for fans across the country: “Thank you is not enough.”