As Tottenham Hotspur prepares to play Millwall in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup this Sunday, it’s a unique opportunity for Harry Kane to revisit one of the clubs that was integral to his development as a footballer.
Kane spent the second half of the 2011-12 season on loan at Millwall (along with former Spurs player Ryan Mason), and joined a team that was fighting to stave off relegation from the Championship to League One. It was an experience that Kane said, ahead of Sunday’s match, was critical to his development as an elite footballer.
“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 was an immediate hit with Millwall supporters, scoring nine goals in 27 matches and helping the Lions go unbeaten in their last seven matches of the season. Millwall finished in 16th place, 17 points above the drop, and Kane was named the club’s Young Player of the Season, a huge honor considering he was on loan and only at the club for a few months.
Former Millwall assistant manager Joe Gallen remembers Kane’s contributions well, saying in the Guardian that Millwall were in a bad way before Kane came to the Den.
“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.”
Gallen also relayed an anecdote that, again, reinforced Kane’s relentless work ethic. At Millwall, like at Tottenham, wild horses couldn’t keep Harry off the training pitch.
“In my 20 years of coaching, I’ve never seen a player practice as much as Harry. He was always practicing from the edge of the box. That was his thing. He’d literally have to be chucked off the training pitch.
“[Former Millwall manager Kenny Jackett] would be watching from his office and he’d say: ‘Joe, you’ve got to come in. He’s going to pull his quad, here.’ I’d say to Harry: ‘Come on, we’ve got to go. Kenny’s going to kill me.’ And Harry would be annoyed. He would be groaning at me, saying: ‘Come on, let’s do some more.’ He’d be looking at me – not happy. The assistant gets all the abuse.”
Spurs welcome a Millwall side that is back in League One, but that has a bit of a reputation for giant-killing in this year’s FA Cup. The Lions have knocked off Bournemouth, Watford, and Leicester City to make it to the quarterfinals, and are hoping to add Tottenham to their list of upset victims.
The match will be the last ever FA Cup match at White Hart Lane, and will send the winners to the semifinals in Wembley. Kane, Spurs’ unquestioned leader, is quite willing to indulge in a little nostalgia, but he’s not overlooking Millwall.
“The atmosphere is going to be amazing, of course with it being a quarter-final as well. It's a big game. The fans have been fantastic so it's important we win, get to the semi-final and see who we get.”