Walthamstow's finest: Harry Kane for Spurs. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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All the Spurs players are heroes but Harry is different: he’s a local hero

What does it mean to sign a local lad?

Gosh, it was so exciting, I felt giddy – Spurs stuffing Chelsea 5-3, Harry for England and St George. There are those alive who will remember for ever this St Crispin’s Day, I mean New Year’s Day, here we go, here we go, England must call soon, and then Real Madrid and then Mars. No wonder so many women have been sending urgent messages to young Harry: “Will you marry me, you absolutely bloody fuckin’ marvel!”

The story, in simple terms, is that Harry Edward Kane, aged 21, having been at Spurs almost all his life and been loaned out loads of times, just when it looked as if he would never ever make it at Spurs, has suddenly come good – scoring six goals in his previous six games, bagging two against Chelsea and winning a penalty.

He’s not particularly brilliant at any one thing – not all that fast, not all that tricky, average at dead balls – just good at all aspects and, in recent months, getting better at all of them, too. Hence he has tremendous confidence and works ever so hard, now scoring for fun, come on, my son.

But the really unusual thing about Harry is summed up by the chant that the Spurs crowd now shouts: “HE’S ONE OF OUR OWN, HE’S ONE OF OUR OWN, HARRY KANE, HE’S ONE OF OUR OWN.”

The home crowd took to him early in the season, while the manager was still clearly in two minds about him, for the simple reason that he is a local lad, born in Walthamstow, and is a trier. Being called Harry also helps – always a popular name, from ’Arry Redknapp to Prince Harry, easy to shout, easy to spell.

He does look English, with that fair hair neatly parted, square if rather lopsided jaw, nothing flash or showy, but in fact he is not totally English – he could have played for the Republic of Ireland as his dad was born in Galway. He chose England, and did well with the under-21s.

Is that Harry chant they now sing racist in any way – picking out for applause someone on the basis that he’s one of us (ie, not a bleedin’ foreigner)? Could Ukip take it up?

Like all Prem teams these days, Spurs is foreign-dominated and has a foreign manager. Perhaps the reason the Argentinian Pochettino was so slow to promote him was that when he arrived he didn’t recognise Harry’s east London accent, assuming he was just another foreigner, not one of those long-suffering locals out there in the crowd, desperate after all these years to have a local hero. It was definitely thanks to the crowd support that the cult and progress of Harry took off.

It is unusual for a local lad, let alone an English lad, to come all the way through the ranks and make it in the Prem. We footer fans of a certain age go on all the time about the West Ham FA Cup-winning team back in 1975 – the last all-English team to win the Cup, most of them from London or Essex – or the Celtic team that won the European Cup in Lisbon in 1967, totally comprised of players born in the Celtic dressing room, sorry, within the sound of Bow Bells, sorry again, wrong city, anyway they were all local lads, born within ten miles of Celtic Park. Incredible. Oh, those were the days, when every player was one of our own.

Which is, in fact, bollocks, fantasy and romance. That idyllic state of affairs has rarely ever existed, not since English professional football began in 1885. Clubs were quickly scouting all over the land, bribing players with sovereigns in their boots to leave their home team. In those days foreigners usually meant Scotsmen. Now they scout the whole world, not just the mines of Lanarkshire.

I am always asking Spurs fans how many players in the Spurs 1901 Cup-winning team came from London and the Home Counties. Go on, guess. The answer is none. Five were Scottish, two Welsh, one Irish, and the three English players came from Cumberland, the Potteries and Grantham, the nearest place to London.

So, we do have to treasure Harry while we can. Coming from Walthamstow! That’s almost like being born in White Hart Lane. 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Churchill Myth

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.