The scene was back in April 2012. Millwall were struggling just above the relegation zone in the Championship. Portsmouth were also involved in the fight for the survival, having been docked 10 points due to administration issues.
Millwall were due to visit Fratton Park on the 12th of April, 2012 for a clash that would have huge repercussions come the end of the season. It was one of those hard-fought games, where both sides wouldn’t give an inch to the opponent. But, one man would prove to be the difference and he did so by scoring the only goal of the game with a low shot from the edge of the penalty area – something that has gone on to become a trademark ever since. It was the night when Harry Kane achieved a cult hero status at Millwall.
The striker was only an 18-year old back then and had joined the club on loan in January from Tottenham Hotspur. In the game preceding the clash against Portsmouth, Kane had scored a goal in Millwall’s 2-0 over Hull City. And he scored once again in the next game, a 2-1 triumph over Leicester City.
It was Kane who led Millwall’s revival at the end of the season, in which they won five games on the run – starting from the win against Hull, and finished with a draw against Blackpool, with the Englishman scoring the late equaliser. They eventually finished in 16th place, 17 points ahead of Portsmouth, who finished third-last in the league. But things weren’t as easy as the table suggests. It doesn’t tell you the story of the pressure that was on the club and the excitement and the relief after they made it safely.
Joe Gallen, the assistant manager at that time, admits as much. Speaking to The Guardian recently, he said:
“It’s safe to say that we probably would not have stayed up had Harry not come.
“It was a gamble bringing him because of his age and it being Millwall and the Championship, which is such a tough league. But he just went on a great scoring run. His goals and the way he played changed it all for us.”
And Gallen puts it all down to the passion and the hard work that the 18-year old Kane used to put in at the club.
“In my 20 years of coaching, I’ve never seen a player practice as much as Harry,” Gallen said.
Harry Kane has grown leaps and bounds since then. The 23-year old has grown into one of the most lethal strikers in the world and is currently the leading goalscorer in the Premier League with 19 strikes against his name.
But it wasn’t all easy for him at the Den. Maybe he started off strongly, scoring a brace in a 5-0 drubbing of Dagenham & Redbridge in their FA Cup replay, but he went without scoring in his first eight Championship games. His first league goal came in a 3-1 win against Burnley in late February and he did not look back from there, finishing the season with 7 goals from 14 matches.
The impact that he had made, at such a tender age, carrying the club to safety almost single-handedly, led Kane to win the club’s Young Player of the Year award, despite spending only five months at the club.
The journey has come full circle for Kane, as he faces the Lions this weekend in the FA Cup quarterfinal tie as one of the most feared strikers in the world. In the competition where he scored his first goal for his loan club, as an unknown teenager, he is set to walk out as England’s current best striker.
Speaking ahead of the emotional tie, Kane said,
“My loan at Millwall was a big part of my development. I was 18, we were in a relegation battle and it turned me into a man. I played in difficult, high-pressure games and I managed to come out of it positively.
“I had a great time at the club and it will be interesting to play them again. A lot has changed since I left but I’m looking forward to it.”
Kane played a series of games that came with a huge amount of pressure and scrutiny, and emerged out of it with flying colours, leading the Lions to safety. At such a young age, he showed great maturity, character. It was at the Den, where a teenaged boy, became a responsible man.
Oh Harry Kane! You are wonderful!