Ask Christine Sinclair where she would most like to be and the answer will most likely be at home or somewhere to spend time with family, perhaps an intense ping pong match with her brother Michael or at Christmas time with her two nieces to drive to Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain.
A little further down the list are their teammates and coaches. Whether as a youngster, when she was just discovering her passion for soccer, those at the University of Portland, with whom she won two national championships, members of the Portland Thorns, with whom she just won her third NWSL title last Saturday, or the compatriots , with whom she has fought for Team Canada for more than two decades.
Football’s top international goalscorer is a shy and intensely private person who loves the sport. It should come as no surprise that her first memoir ‘Play the long game‘ — co-written with Canadian sportswriter Stephen Brunt — is written with a greater purpose than looking back on her remarkable life and just telling her story.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without my family, my friends, my teammates,” Sinclair told CBC Sports. “My trip in and of itself would be pretty boring [without the people who have helped me].”
In this compellingly honest read, currently available in bookstores across Canada, Sinclair describes the sacrifices her parents and extended family made to give her the opportunities she needed to be recognized in a country which still lacks the infrastructure to spot women’s talent right away at an appropriate level.
Sinclair touches on the ups and downs of playing sport at the highest level, including the devastating 2012 Olympics loss to USA in the semifinals and winning gold at Tokyo 2020, and what it means to be a woman in sport and the enduring ones fight for it treated equally.
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Hilariously, Sinclair’s honesty also sees some shots being fired — some tongue-in-cheek and some not so much — including the American women’s team having an attitude that’s “just so disgusting,” as well as attributing Italian doctors to their thinking they tended to you was crazy playing through a broken nose at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, among other anecdotes.
Whether it was the Canadian women’s team’s rise from “little sister” to contender or her mother Sandi’s battle with multiple sclerosis and her father Bill doing everything in his power to care for her, the fighting spirit plays throughout the book about a crucial role.
As she looks to the future, her passion to keep fighting and make the most of her platform in her own way is evident, whether it’s raising awareness of her mother’s illness or promoting women’s football.
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“My mother fought my whole life and taught me never to give up,” Sinclair said. “She taught me that if you want things to get better, you have to go out there and try for yourself. I’m lucky enough to play a team sport, so I have a lot of teammates around as well.
“I think it’s easy in parts too, in Canada it’s in our DNA. Especially in women’s football, when I first came into the national team, we were always the underdogs… We’re a sombre bunch who don’t know when to take a break.”
Not surprisingly, the more intriguing sections of the book include the importance of John Herdman to the program; Sinclair calls him “the best coach I’ve ever had.”
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However, Herdman wasn’t the only national coach to receive much acclaim, the other being Even Pellerud, who gave Sinclair her first chance with the national team and was with the team from 1999-2008. The two remain in touch to this day.
“Even was the man who turned the program around and gave it its first launch,” Sinclair said. “He was demanding funds from the federation, demanding international matches and support. The team had done very poorly at the 1999 World Cup and when he came on board he built the team up for the future.”
Need for a professional league in Canada
As far as Canadian women’s football has come with winning a gold medal at the Olympics and several players playing professionally in Europe, Sinclair warns of what could happen if the country doesn’t proactively seize this moment.
“The fact that we don’t have a pro league is frankly embarrassing,” Sinclair said. “I fear for the future of our women’s team if we don’t have a league because players pass by and are overlooked, it’s scary.
“You see all these other countries that put so much money, time and energy into professional sport, like England and Spain.”
Sinclair promises to remain somewhat involved in football, although the role of head coach or general manager holds no appeal for her. Unlike Serena Williams or Roger Federer, she doesn’t look for a big farewell and prefers to slip through the back door. Even if she’s leading a quiet life somewhere in Portland, expect the fire to burn bright.
This is one of the most humble superstars you will ever meet, and her story of how she went from a Burnaby, BC kid to one of the greatest of all time is special because she has nothing but time for the people who helped and stood by her every step.
Oh, and she hopes her American friends still like her.
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