He represented and captained Canada, took to the pitch in the Premier League’s most famous stadiums, and went up against some of the best players in the world while playing for one of the biggest teams in England.
And yet, David Edgar was still the same humble kid from Kitchener, Ont.
Throughout his lengthy career, the veteran defender always kept his hometown close to his heart and never forgot where he came from, remaining untouched by the trappings of celebrity and money that are so often enmeshed with being a footballer in the modern era.
It’s fitting that in announcing his retirement on Monday that Edgar revealed his immediate plans are to spend time back home in Kitchener with his wife and support her as she launches a new salon business, and re-connect with his two young daughters, revelling in the domestic bliss of being a devoted husband and father.
“I’m still the same guy from Kitchener. Nothing has changed that. I’m just looking forward to going home to enjoy some family time, and enjoy my first Christmas as a non-footballer,” Edgar told CanPL.ca.
Edgar confirmed that he plans to hang up his cleats at the conclusion of Forge’s Concacaf League run in 2020. His last game could come as soon as Tuesday’s quarter-final against Arcahaie FC in the Dominican Republic. If Forge loses, Edgar’s career will be extended by one week for the Concacaf Champions League “play-in” match. But either way, Edgar is walking away from the game that he learned to love while growing up in Kitchener.
“Kitchener has played a massive part in who I am… I grew up at Budd Park; I spent most of my summers there playing soccer. When I was a kid, I used to race out of school to go to Budd Park and kick the ball around with my dad, and it’s where I proposed to my wife. So yeah, I’m still a Kitchener kid,” Edgar said.
At age 33, Edgar is still a relatively young man, and with Forge on the cusp of qualifying for the 2021 Concacaf Champions League, his decision to retire seems premature. The obvious question is, why walk away now?
Edgar explained that he’s still feeling the ill effects of a knee injury he suffered in December 2016. He also wants to focus on the next chapter of his life, which he hopes will involve coaching. Edgar revealed that he doesn’t have anything lined up at the moment; rather, he plans to shut things down over the Christmas holidays, relax with his family, and figure out how to pursue a career as a coach.
“My football career has come full circle. I’m going out on my own terms, winning back-to-back (CPL) titles and hopefully creating a bit of history with Forge. It’s been tough since the injury, I can’t lie. I’ve never been the same, and I’m just more proud of myself that I even came back from that, because in all honesty I was told that it was a career-ender,” Edgar noted.
“To come back and to be able to play, it hurts every day. It’s not the main reason why I’m retiring… But if I’m playing, I can’t fully commit myself to get into coaching, and that next part of my life really excites me.”
He later added: “I need to make a clean break (from playing). I’ve spent a lot of time away from my kids with all the travel and quarantining this year. It’s time for them to have a dad at home. If you could promise me there’d be a full season (in 2021) we might not be having this discussion. But to go out on my terms, it means a lot to me.”
Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis called Edgar a great ambassador for Canadian soccer.
“He’s picked a good time that he’s comfortable with and we’ve had that discussion; he’s got our full support behind him on that end. We hope we can make one more little piece of history with him in the lineup over this next game, and make sure he’s not playing two more games in a Forge shirt,” Smyrniotis told CanPL.ca.
“One thing’s for sure, he’s had a very good career as a Canadian who left this country years ago to try and ply his trade overseas. He’s done an excellent job at that and representing our national team and being an ambassador for what’s going on. With the struggles he had with injuries in the last few years, I think what he’s been able to do here with Forge has been fantastic for him and us at the same time.”
The son of a former pro goalkeeper, Edgar grew up as a huge Newcastle United fan, falling in love with the famous English club where his father briefly featured during his playing career. The Newcastle area is also where his parents were originally from before they immigrated to Canada.
At age 14, Edgar left Kitchener to pursue his dreams of playing pro soccer, and went to live with his grandmother in England when he joined the Newcastle United youth academy. After cutting his teeth in the youth system and reserve side, he made his senior team debut in 2006 and spent three seasons with the Magpies before leaving to join Burnley in 2009.
“My dad really supported me, both as a coach and a dad. He even came over to England to watch me play. My mom, too, was really big for me. She was the one who really made the decision to let me go to Newcastle when I was 14,” Edgar explained.
Aside from playing for the Magpies and Burnley, the Canadian defender went on a whirlwind tour of the English Championship and League One, turning out for Swansea City, Birmingham City, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United.
A return to Canada followed when Edgar signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps midway through the 2016 campaign. But he only played a handful of games in MLS, as the aforementioned knee injury forced him to sit out the entire 2017 season.
Stints in the USL with Nashville SC and Ottawa Fury led to a return to England, where he played for Hartlepool United. He eventually made his way back to Canada in 2019 and played a vital role in helping Forge FC win consecutive CPL Championships.
“I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. To play for Newcastle United, the club I supported as a boy was a dream come true. For me to have Newcastle wallpaper and bed sheets as a kid, and to be able to play at St. James’ Park alongside some of the players I was lucky enough to call teammates, it’s what I grew up always wanting to do,” Edgar stated.
“To captain my country, and win promotion (to the Premier League) with Burnley, and then get to play in Canada… that was something, at age 14 when I left for Newcastle, I thought would never happen. I never imagined I’d be able to play and win trophies in my home country. That meant so much to me.”
Looking back now, his start with Newcastle United’s senior team reads like a Hollywood script.
After making his debut on Boxing Day 2006 away to Bolton Wanderers, a 19-year-old Edgar earned his first start at home on New Year’s Day against Manchester United. Playing as a left fullback, Edgar put in a man-of-the-match performance, as he effectively marked Cristiano Ronaldo, and took a pass from teammate James Milner before scoring a screamer from 40 yards out (which, in fairness, took a fortuitous deflection off Paul Scholes) that beat goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar at the far post to level the score.
To this day, Edgar still chokes up when talking about the goal that in effect announced himself to the soccer world.
“I just remember getting told that day I was going to play at left back and I asked who was going to play right wing for Man United, and they looked at me like I was an idiot because it was Ronaldo. On (Forge’s current road trip), I actually watched that game back because I was feeling nostalgic. I played moments like that a thousand times in my head before I left home at age 14; I always dreamed of scoring at St. James’ Park. The goal changed my life. I get emotional just thinking about it,” Edgar admitted.
His career might have taken a different path had he accepted a previous offer to go on trial with Manchester United. But Edgar was only 10 at time, and he said there’s no way his mom would have allowed him to leave home at such a young age. Besides, he had his heart set on playing for Newcastle United.
“I still have the offer letter from the Man United scout, somewhere. It’s a nice memento,” Edgar said.
It’s also interesting to note that hockey’s loss was soccer’s gain. Edgar played both sports as a kid, and insists he was a better hockey player at the time. But then he decided to give it up in order to focus on soccer.
“I never had the love for hockey like I had with football. Football is a part of me — it’s an illness, a sickness. [laughs] I just always remember having a ball at my feet and never wanting to let it go, always wanting to play,” Edgar said.
“I spent the summer between grade eight and nine in England, and my hockey coach actually called me at my [grandma’s] to see if I was going to play that year, and I told him I wasn’t.”
The signing of Edgar during the summer of 2019 was a major coup by Smyrniotis, as Forge gained an experienced defender with valuable Premier League and national team experience to bolster their ranks. Edgar proved to be a workhorse, as he ended up making 26 appearances and logging over 2000 minutes of playing time in all competitions, as Forge won back-to-back domestic titles and went on a pair of successful runs in the Concacaf League.
“It’s been very special. When I met with Bobby and signed the deal I remember driving home from Hamilton to Kitchener and thinking, ‘this feels right,’ and it’d been a while since something felt right in football for me. I knew we were on the cusp of something special with Forge and with the CPL. The whole league, I’ve just been so proud of it and so proud to be a part of it,” Edgar said.
Edgar has also been a loyal servant for the Canadian men’s team, scoring four goals and earning 42 caps (37 as a starter) since making his debut in a friendly versus Greece in 2011. He also represented his county at the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup that was held in Canada.
“That’s been the proudest part of my career; being able to play for my country. I remember watching the 2000 Gold Cup as a fan and knowing all the players, and then later getting to play with some of them – Paul Stalteri, Kevin McKenna and Dwayne de Rosario were fantastic. To share a locker room with Atiba Hutchinson was such an honour. Every time I got to pull on the red shirt it was massive. To be a captain of that team, it gives me shivers thinking about it now.
“I was itching to get on in that game against Greece. It felt like it wasn’t going to come, but I came on as a sub and played in central midfield… I remember all the games because of what they meant to me — my first start in Puerto Rico, the first time I captained the team, everything.”
One moment with the national team in particular stand outs above all others. A World Cup qualifier against Cuba on Oct. 12, 2012 at Toronto’s BMO Field saw Edgar score a sweet, outside-of-the-foot volley from inside the box in the 78th minute to seal a 3-0 win. The day before, his wife informed him she was pregnant with their first child.
“I told her if I scored I was going to suck my thumb, so I celebrated by sucking my thumb right in front of my family who were in the stands. My whole family looked at my wife, and that’s how they found out she was pregnant. That was a pretty special moment,” Edgar recalled.
There were also forgettable moments with the national team — Edgar played the full 90 minutes of Canada’s infamous 8-1 loss to Honduras in San Pedro Sula in a 2014 World Cup qualifier. The Canadian team’s hopes of advancing to the Hex were dashed in the most embarrassing fashion.
“That was the one that hurts the most; that’s going to hurt me for a long time,” Edgar admitted.
The injury that also derailed his time in MLS with the Whitecaps was also a low point, but he doesn’t have any bitterness about it.
“Every single days since the injury has been a grind. I shouldn’t have come back in terms of what the injury was; I’ve never been the same,” Edgar admitted.
“It was a pivotal moment in my career, and it’s been an uphill battle sever since, but it also proved to me how much has football has meant to me, to even continue to go on. … The knee still bothers, but I’m not retiring because of the knee. It’s just time. No regrets.”