How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Harry Kane
10:20 AM EST on November 23, 2022
This Black Friday, when the U.S. plays England in the World Cup, I suspect a lot of Americans will share a collective thought. They’ll take their first good look at the England captain Harry Kane—one of the greatest goalscorers alive—and think some version of This fucking guy?
It’s only logical. Harry Kane is not an immediately imposing man. He’s not a cool man. He likes golf. He likes Tom Brady. He’s expressed interest in a second career as a field-goal kicker. He’s known his wife since they were kids. They have three children. When he scores, he kisses his ring finger. He dances insanely badly. He looks thoroughly, resoundingly white. His name is Harry Kane.
And yet . . . I . . . love him? Primarily, that’s for a reason you may have already guessed: He plays his club soccer for Tottenham, the team I support, and watching a guy score loads of goals for your team year after year after year is a surefire path to genuine human emotion. I also lived in London for the last three years and unintentionally Benedict Arnold’d myself into becoming an England fan. (I actually like the “It’s Coming Home” song. It’s stuck in my head right now.) But there’s more than basic allegiance here, I swear.
My first ever sports love was 1995–96 Antoine Walker, and that kind of trauma stays with you forever. I’ve always gravitated to the doomed, the eccentrics, the fuck-ups. The conventionally high-performing normcore athletes, the ones who blow you away with efficacy—it’s usually hard for me to really feel anything for them. There’s a very simple and dumb thing going on for me which is that if I can see myself in their failings then I like them. And what human drama is there in a guy who goes to work and gets the job done, day after day?
I have had, and currently do have, other Tottenham infatuations. Ones I have a much easier time defending. Like Dele Alli, the quiet genius so mercurial he now plays in Istanbul. Or Dejan Kulusevski, a Macedonian-Swede who seems to propel past his defenders by tripping on his own feet. But Kane is my ballast. I understand if you judge me for that. I don’t mind. I judge myself too, sometimes.
There are mitigating factors to Kane fandom, to be sure. Things I could say now, if I really wanted to try and convince you that my adoration is right. For one, Kane can score a very pretty goal. At 29, he seems to be doing it less and less, but he can absolutely put his foot through the ball from outside the box. He’s also, somehow, gotten better as a passer over the years. I think of his platonic ideal sequence as him collecting the ball in the middle of the pitch, looking up, and then lacing an audacious long-range number. He has grace and he has vision.
But if I’m being honest: yes, most of the time, he can look quite lumbering, quite awkward, quite ungainly. His goal against Leeds before the World Cup break is a telling document. The ball bobbles in from a corner. He takes a good-enough touch, creates just-enough space, and then, from a short distance, crudely smashes the fuck out of it. His haters say he is a poacher. An opportunist. He is more than that, definitely, but he is, yes, also that.
All of which makes him perfect for this England team, which has oodles of vibey talent (have you seen James Maddison’s BoohooMAN collection?!) and yet is coached by Gareth Southgate via crippling fear. Southgate seems to want to win games, but just barely. And if you want to do it like that, you better make sure you have a guy who always converts his chances, however which way he does it, however which way they come.
Last summer, in London, my girlfriend and I left our six-week-old baby at home with a babysitter and went to the semifinals of Euro 2020. England vs. Denmark, at Wembley. We had lucked into tickets and we felt reckless leaving our brand new kid behind and we thought the least we could do was really lean into the bit. We got England shirts and novelty IT'S COMING HOME bucket hats and we sang all the songs: “Harry Maguire, Harry Maguire, he drinks the vodka, he drinks the Jäger, his head’s fucking massive.”
And when we got to our seats, the large men in Stone Island and uncomfortably high fades who had apparently snuck in and were now very much occupying our general seat-space were not amused at all. I tried to get them to nudge over and they just kept saying “It’s an England semifinal, mate” as if that explained it all. One also kept barking “yippie-kay-yay,” which wasn’t helpful at all. I took a selfie with the Stone Island bros all ignoring me and sent it to a buddy who said it looked like a still from a “Seth Rogen doing shenanigans in England” movie. I definitely started thinking about why I’d traded allegiance from one failed empire for another and I definitely thought about how creepy it is, in general, to root for a country. And then England scored and me and the Stone Island bros jumped up and hugged each other.
We didn’t stay for the full extra time. We couldn’t ignore our guilt any longer. We had to go home to that aforementioned baby. So we weren’t actually in the stadium in the 104th minute, when Kane lined up for a penalty. We listened on a staticky radio in the cab home. We heard Kane miss the penalty. That’s impossible, I thought. He’s automatic. Then we heard him bury the rebound. That’s it. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Pluckily, annoyingly, with sheer bumbling determination, he’ll get it done.
And maybe, at my age, I want that more than I care to admit. In a world of chaos, that safe known entity feels really good. Harry Kane is, yes, objectively boring. And I will die on any hill of his making.