The story of Harry Kane and England begins in the unlikely surroundings of the old clubhouse of now defunct Leyton Wingate FC.
It was here, just across the road from his family home in Walthamstow, north-east London, where he would join his parents and brother Charlie – with their faces painted and three lions on their shirts – to savour Euro 96 on the big screen as a nation partied to the sound of ‘football’s coming home’.
Harry was not even three years old but the Kanes were devoted England fans, and that tournament, and that team featuring Paul Gascoigne, Teddy Sheringham and Alan Shearer, captivated the nation and inspired a generation.
Harry Kane has enjoyed a rapid rise in his career and will now lead England into a major final
Twenty-five years later at Wembley Stadium, with Frank Skinner, David Baddiel and Gazza in the crowd, Kane pulled on his England shirt once again and did what he now does, scoring the winner against Denmark.
High in the stands, his brother and his parents, Pat and Kim, were struck numb as their phones lit up with messages from family and friends, with their faces painted and their England shirts on, just as they had done 25 years earlier.
The echoes were surreal but, this time, Harry was the captain of England and about to lead the country into the biggest game since the World Cup final in 1966.
Kane (centre) fired home the extra-time winner against Denmark to set up the clash with Italy
Across the capital at Leyton Orient, they were rejoicing, too. ‘We actually had this guy on loan,’ was the astonished reaction tweeted from Brisbane Road.
Russell Slade watched on TV, recalling the ‘skinny 17-year-old’ he signed on loan from Spurs when he was Orient boss, handing Kane his debut on a mud-heap at Rochdale in League One.
‘You couldn’t see his lovely white boots for the mud,’ said Slade. ‘But that’s his attitude. He came to Orient because he was invested in his own development. He wanted to move forward in terms of his understanding and knowledge.
‘He was very dedicated. He stayed behind after training and practised his free-kicks. He is a classic example of a player who has maximised everything he has got and made sacrifices to get where he wants to be.
Leyton Orient were rejoicing at Kane’s heroics, with the ace having been on loan there aged 17
‘Lots of talent has been wasted over the years because players don’t have the same mental capacity, or something is missing in the make-up. You look at the whole cake when it comes to Harry and there are not many pieces missing.
‘He’s so focused. Single-minded like all the best strikers and he can lose you in a telephone box. He only needs half-a-yard of space to get his shot away.
‘His goal record is phenomenal for club and country and even when he had that spell at the beginning of the tournament you knew he was integral to what Gareth Southgate was trying to do.’
For all his success, Kane has not forgotten Orient and now sponsors their shirts. ‘When I see him scoring goals for England it takes me back 10 years and because of his demeanour and his manner as a person you want him to achieve the very best he can,’ said Slade.
Kane has never forgotten about Orient for all his success and he now sponsors the club’s shirts
Perhaps the great appeal of Kane’s success is that it has not come easily. He scored goals at every level through the youth ranks and was known to be a wonderful passer of the ball, but no one hailed him a teen sensation and cleared him a path to first-team football.
Released by Arsenal at nine, he returned to local football, playing on Saturdays for Gladstone Rovers and Sundays for Ridgeway Rovers.
Scout Mark O’Toole, who now works for the Republic of Ireland, told Tottenham to take him on but they declined until Kane scored a hat-trick against them while on a trial with Watford.
Thanks to O’Toole’s perseverance, he joined them at 11. He now has 221 goals for Spurs. Only Jimmy Greaves has more with 266, a record that once seemed untouchable but it is within Kane’s range if he stays another year.
Tottenham star Kane has scored 221 goals for the club and is closing in on their goals record
Harry Redknapp gave Kane his Spurs debut in a Europa League qualifier against Hearts in August 2011. Five up from the first leg, Redknapp wanted to blood some promising youngsters.
Kane won a penalty, took it himself and saw it saved by Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald in a goalless draw. He had to wait until Shamrock away, later in the group stage, for his first Spurs goal.
‘Tim Sherwood who worked with our young players was a massive fan of Harry,’ said Redknapp, recalling one performance in an Under 21 game at the training ground against Birmingham.
‘I got a phone call from Steve Rowley, the chief scout at Arsenal, to ask if he could watch the game with Pat Rice. They were thinking of signing Scott Dann, who had been out injured but was fit again and going to play for Birmingham as an over-age player. Harry played up front for us and scored four that day. Arsenal didn’t sign Scott Dann.’
Kane (R) made his debut in late 2011 and he featured several times before going out on loan
Redknapp encouraged Kane to go out on loan. After Orient, there was a spell with Millwall in the Championship, where he forged a good partnership with Andy Keogh under Kenny Jackett and won over a tough crowd at the Den with his courage and work ethic.
‘I’m a big believer in loans,’ said Redknapp, who presided over the early careers of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and Glen Johnson, and sent them all out on loan. ‘It’s real football. Go and play where it means something to win and lose. Harry is from the old school. He’s proper: worked, trained with a good attitude, not a big head.
‘He’s a fantastic person and deserves all he gets. When people started on about leaving him out earlier in the tournament, I thought, “Yeah, good luck”, because England won’t get far in the competition without him. Gareth knew better. Harry Kane is the best No 9 in the world.’
Kane won over the crowd at Millwall during his stint there with his courage and work ethic
Kane went on loan to Norwich in the Premier League when Andre Villas-Boas replaced Redknapp, but he broke a metatarsal and barely played.
Spurs moved him in mid-season to Leicester as they fought for promotion from the Championship under Nigel Pearson. Again, his impact was negligible and his development was in danger of stalling.
Kane is quick to acknowledge the influence of John McDermott and Bradley Allen in the Spurs academy, not only helping him to progress as a footballer but for keeping his feet on the ground.
Sherwood, too, for giving him a run in the team ahead of Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado, during his five months in charge in 2013-14. Three goals in three Premier League games under Sherwood convinced Kane he could make the step up.
Tim Sherwood was convinced Kane would make the step up after his flurry of top-flight goals
The following season, under Mauricio Pochettino, he scored 31 goals. He also scored within seconds of his England debut as a substitute against Lithuania and made his first start for his country in a friendly against Italy.
He has not stopped scoring since. One-season wonder? You must be joking. Injury prone? He recovers quickly and just look at the goals. He has become a goal machine for club and country.
He won the Golden Boot at the World Cup in 2018 and his goal against Denmark on Wednesday hauled him level with Gary Lineker’s record of 10 goals for England in tournaments.
In this time, Kane has matured, rarely shying from responsibility on the pitch or off it. He is ready to talk and answer criticism, although he has become noticeably quieter as speculation swirls around his club future.
Kane is now a model professional and has become a goal machine for both club and country
The model professional, he has become England’s leader and a worthy successor to Bobby Moore, whom he will emulate by leading the nation into a major tournament final.
It has been quite a journey, and Kane was visibly touched with emotion as the Wembley crowd sang Sweet Caroline and he attempted to give an interview after the victory against Germany.
He remains an England fan at heart, inspired by those formative days experiencing Euro 96 at Leyton Wingate, and perhaps the best is yet to come.