By: Kaja Antic, Sports Writer
It was a cool December evening in Metro Vancouver as crowds pooled onto SkyTrain platforms, destined for the greatest sporting event in the city that night. Oh, and Canucks captain Quinn Hughes lost to both his younger brothers, but that was next door.
December 5th, 2023: the night the nation said goodbye to a Canadian legend.
I was one of the tens of thousands in red and white, descending through the downtown core and filing into the renamed Christine Sinclair Place. Lines at the stadium gates seemed to go on forever, a mass of people ready to pay tribute to the greatest international goal scorer of all time.
Even in the concourse, you could hear the roar of the crowd, with the wide halls packed with eager spectators, grabbing their drinks and snacks in anticipation of the bittersweet farewell. Entering the bowl of the stadium, the roar thundered, with much of the festivities still yet to take place.
Team Canada, along with Australia’s Matildas, were warming up on the pitch, as video tributes for the retiring legend played on the stadium’s central jumbotron. Messages of thanks poured in from icons, such as Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, actor Ryan Reynolds, hockey players Sarah Nurse and Marie-Philip Poulin, and American tennis and women’s sports pioneer Billie Jean King. A multitude of videos displayed Sinclair’s immense impact on everyday Canadians from coast to coast, both on and off the pitch.
This impact was also shown clearly on the stadium’s large turf field, with thousands of onlookers waiting in anticipation of the retirement ceremony prior to kick-off. Before the participating teams, media, and legend of the hour herself, 190 youth soccer players in red Sinclair jerseys — representing the 190 international goals she scored while playing for Canada — walked out of the tunnel. The players stood on the vast pitch for the entirety of the ceremony, a visual representation not only of Sinclair’s record but also of her lasting influence on soccer, nationally and internationally.
Sinclair’s international career was coming to an end after 23 years of inspiring performances and advocacy for sporting equality. She was one of my role models growing up, as I played soccer every weekend in the often rainy weather. While I was not a goal scorer in the slightest and left the sport in my adolescent years, I still looked up to Christine Sinclair like many, recognizing her as a stand-alone legend in the history of soccer.
The retirement ceremonies began with honouring goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who announced her international retirement in January, and Sophie Schmidt, a longtime teammate and friend of Sinclair, who was also appearing in her last international game. Schmidt had initially planned to retire from international play earlier in the year, but was convinced by Sinclair and Canadian team coach Bev Priestman to continue until this grand finale.
As Christine Sinclair walked onto the field, the crowd responded to the retiring players with cheers and applause, acknowledging both legends in their own rights. Surrounded by the Canadian team — past and present — Sinclair entered the pitch in the maple leaf-adorned kit for the final time, and the tens of thousands in attendance roared for their champion.
Tears filled the eyes of many across the stadium — including Sinclair herself — as a tribute to the “GOAT” played on screen from her first appearance as a 16-year-old in 2000, to her many, many, goals in the red and white. It was a succinct summary of Sinclair’s international career, though confining a remarkable 23-year career into a five-minute video is an impossible task.
The match itself was low-event compared to Canada’s 5–0 victory four days earlier on Vancouver Island. The 12th minute of the game saw the crowd stand and applaud Sinclair, representative of the number 12 she has worn throughout her career.
The lone goal of the match was scored by Quinn in the 40th minute. The play began as a corner kick from Jessie Fleming, and was passed around by a few players, including Sinclair, before it was headed by Quinn.
Sinclair was fittingly substituted off the Canadian field 12 minutes into the second half, removing the captain’s armband and placing it on the arm of fellow retiring teammate Schmidt. The move off the field took nearly two full minutes, as Sinclair was approached by players both Canadian and Australian in congratulations of a job well done and a legacy well cemented. Applauding to the thousands in the stadium renamed for her, Sinclair looked around as she took her final steps off the field as a member of the Canadian national team.
In her 331st appearance for team Canada, Sinclair had played her 27,601st, and final minute.
The crowd that filled Christine Sinclair Place that night was the largest crowd ever for a “Women’s international friendly match in Canada”, with 48,112 spectators packing the stadium for the icon’s last dance.
The fanfare continued long after the final whistle had blown, with the Canadian team rounding the pitch, throwing T-shirts into the crowd and celebrating with the dedicated fans. The concourse was lively, decorated with “#ThankYouSinc” banners and posters, including a large wall adorned with messages from fans thanking the legend for her contributions to the game, the sport, and the nation as a whole.
The upper ring of Christine Sinclair Place was illuminated with a pattern of the Canadian flag along with the number 12. The visual display honouring Sinclair was seen both inside the stadium and outside along the Vancouver skyline.
Although the crowds returned home, the SkyTrain emptied out, and the stadium was renamed BC Place once again, the echoes of this hometown legend will live on for generations to come. When asked by CBC how she would like to be remembered, Sinclair said as “a proud Canadian that gave their all.”
Sinclair gave everything to this country, and the millions from coast to coast are forever grateful for the legendary number 12.