Harry Kane hears echoes of the past and rockets past Finney and Shearer

Barney Ronay at Wembley on 14 November 2019

Over to you then, Harry. From the flames of the Sterling affair, the dark talk of vendettas and humps and all the rest of it; from all this England found a moment of cold, still calm at Wembley.

Never mind that they also found opponents so astonishingly poor the Montenegrin defence seemed at times to be putting on a highly crafted, beautifully choreographed piece of physical comedy.

Never mind that Harry Kane’s third goal in his first-half hat-trick involved him trapping the ball with a loose touch, then having enough time to take a step, erect a picnic table, uncouple his hip flask, download a podcast on second world war tank movements in occupied France, then readjust his feet and slide the ball past the laughable full-body slide of Aleksandar Sofranac.

Never mind that had this been a minor T20 tournament game the ICC would have stopped it after 10 overs and sent in the forensic match-fixing squad.

On a day when England football chose to talk about the past, to reminisce about the giants and semi-giants of that rather frustrating history, Kane did something that marks him out in an England shirt as something prodigious.

His first two goals were simple nodded set-piece headers. In fairness, Kane did not even have to “find space” for those. Space was given to him willingly, doled out with an oversized ladle by the massed red shirts of what we must, for the sake of form, call the visiting defence.

But these goals were all significant. The hat-trick took Kane to 31 for England, past Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Alan Shearer. He now stands sixth on the all-time scorers’ list. More excitingly still, Kane has got there in remarkably quick time.

By the time he left the pitch early in the second half his tally stood at 31 from 44, and 12 in his last eight. Only Jimmy Greaves has scored more for England at a similar rate. Everyone else up there is going at a goal every other game. Four years on from Kane’s debut we can call it: this is now a phenomenal England career.

And yes, there will of course be carping, as there must always be carping, about the level of opposition, the number of shanks and deflections and tap-ins (also known as: goals). But as everyone with an unjaundiced view knows, international football has always involved a large portion of filler, no-hopers, off-duty chimney sweeps and the rest.

Kane is sixth in England’s scoring charts.
Kane is sixth in England’s scoring charts. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

This is what happens. Everyone has the same chance to score like this. Kane has actually done it, and that is a thing, a distinct note of its own. Not to mention another garland to a career that has consistently exceeded everyone’s expectations but his own. It felt like an agreeable urgent note, a taste of the present on a night marked by the confected nonsense of England’s Thousandth Game. This has been a laughably overblown marketing exercise, albeit one bought into dutifully by an ever-willing public. In reality the 1,000 game hoopla captured the two worst things about England football in one neat package: the urge to sell itself at every turn; plus, of course, that deadly obsession with the past.

At various stages there was a parade of dignitaries, former players, former managers, commemorative shirts, heritage flim-flam, a recap of the glorious memories inspired by the sight of Fabio Capello stalking about like an angry velociraptor. It is an interesting prospect when you strip away the codswallop. Because the thing about the good old days is they weren’t really that good.

Do we really want to talk about those 1,000 games, those times England football became a muster point for flag-draped underachievement? Some will remember We Have Nothing To Learn From The Brazilians and Can We Not Knock It, or Alf Ramsey’s van full of imported fish fingers burning on the Mexico docks.

Those 1,000 games? Let’s have a look. How about the abandoned game in Dublin, the Wembley games where John Barnes was abused, the friendly arranged to suck up to Jack Warner. Not to mention the other Special Sales Event game last year when Wayne Rooney came back for a half-speed testimonial. This is all history. And yes, it’s all worth remembering.

As advertised before kick-off, Raheem Sterling felt the wrath of Gareth at Wembley, dropped as a penance for that in-house scuffle with Joe Gomez. With Sterling verboten, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford both started.

Sancho looked lively. Rashford scored another international goal of his own. Best of all, Ben Chilwell completed a hat-trick of assists within the opening half hour. Towards the end there was the sight of Tammy Abraham making it 7-0: another taste of the future on a night that will be remembered for Kane and the glorious present.

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