Harry Kane fixes you with the eyes of an overwhelmed compatriot alighting on a familiar face in a strange land. The smile, the clasping handshake and the immediate talk of cricket, England in India, suggest mutual reassurance, a sense we’re all on safer ground now.
It’s Sunday morning in Kirchweidach, a village of 2,000 deep in rural Bavaria, just by the Austrian border. It’s a stunning, sunny day in a village as typically Bavarian as you can imagine, all lush meadows, crisp with frost and pretty houses with BMWs and views of imposing snow-clad Alpine peaks in the distance. It’s not Walthamstow.
Kane is fulfilling an annual pilgrimage for Bayern players, visiting one of the supporters’ club branches that stretch all over Germany, this being a club owned by fans rather than a nation state or private equity. Here you see the difference and the contrast could not be starker.
Everyone is in Bayern Munich shirts, except the rogue individual who has a “Kane” England shirt. Lederhosen abound, Weiβbier is flowing and it’s only 9.30am. Then again, they’ve been queueing since 8.30am to get into the cosy dining room of the local hotel and Kane isn’t scheduled to arrive until 11am. The 18th-century domed Catholic church, which dominates the small village square, chimes hopefully. You suspect they will be down on numbers today. The Hotel Gasthof zur Post is heaving.
Bayern fanclubs around Germany apply to the club to send them a player. A quirky comedy video the Kirchweidach branch sent won them the equivalent of the Bayern lottery and they have been allocated the England captain. If they’re lucky they may get another player in 10 years’ time. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event for the village.
“That was a bit crazy,” agrees Kane afterwards in the sanctuary of a hotel bedroom, at the end of what can only be described as a bizarre and unforgettable two hours. Crazy in a good way.
We know Captain Kane: sensible, reliable, a little introverted. This was wild, unpredictable and right out there. Kane has been singing along to Bavarian chants, seasoning the soup (as Bavarian wedding couples traditionally do, the symbolism being that he is now united with Bavaria) and playing a form of curling, but with those big litre beer steins rather than stones. Also an incomprehensible game which involves tapping a nail into a barrel and which ends, somehow, in huge cheers and Harry winning.
“Harry! Harry!” the crowd chant manically. It’s hard to do it all justice to how well this is going down. He tells the local media later that one of the reasons for coming to Germany was to embrace the local culture. In which case, this is a no-holds-barred Bavarian bear hug.
Kane does all this really well. He’s answering questions from local primary schoolchildren. Who is his favourite teammate? (“Eric Dier.”) Is he rich? (“Yes!”) What is his favourite animal?
“Lion,” he innocently replies to an unexpected chorus of boos and jeers. Apparently the lion is the symbol of rivals 1860 Munich. Not missing a beat, he gets them to ask the question again. ‘A dog’ he says and the crowd roar in approval and laughter. Admittedly they are pretty well predisposed to the man who has scored 23 Bundesliga goals in 19 games but nevertheless, he is killing this. And that is even before he signs autographs and poses for selfies for 45 minutes so that everyone can leave happy on their special day. Some time ago, we are told, another Bayern star came and did all of the above but look bored throughout. Kane never looks bored. Startled at times, perhaps, but never anything but fully engaged.
As such, at the end of this carnival of craziness, talk about England’s win in India is a safe island of our own English cultural weirdness. “They’ve won?!” he says as news on the epic victory is passed on. The Bayern representative looks puzzled at talk of Tom Hartley’s seven wickets. Kane’s been following online, between the nail-hitting contest and sing-songs.
The night before, travelling back from Augsburg where Kane scored again in the 3-2 win that takes Bayern to within two points of the leaders Bayer Leverkusen, the carriage full of Bayern fans was chanting “Harry Kane! Harry Kane! Harry Kane!” He’s no Gazza but the mania in Germany is genuine.
“It is special and these type of things today makes you realise how appreciated you are,” he says. “It’s the first sort of thing I’ve done like this. You see fans in the stadiums, but here we’re an hour and a half drive from Munich, so it’s special. I didn’t know what to expect but the reception I’ve had has been amazing and I really appreciate it.”
Everyone knew Kane was good before he came to Germany and yet even so, he is on course to beat the Bundesliga goalscoring record set by the Bayern legend Robert Lewandowski, who in turn beat Gerd Müller’s record.
“To be compared with them names is a great thing, especially in the first season, so it means I’m doing something right,” Kane says. There’s that slight tone of relief in the answer, because even he couldn’t have known would turn out quite this well. “You know what I’m like, I like to take things in my stride. It’s strange, after playing in the Premier League and England, just to be in a different county – obviously I don’t know the language, thankfully a lot of people speak English. It’s not easy and it takes a bit of getting used to. I’m just trying to take it day by day and slowly learn their ways, the way they do things. Even this [today] is unique. We didn’t have this before [in England] so it’s quite fun.”
He has this capacity to surprise you, Kane. You think you have him all figured out, the Walthamstow home boy, seemingly settled in London and the Premier League forever with wife Katie and four kids, Ivy, Vivienne, Louis and Henry, born just last August. And then he ups and leaves for Germany, the biggest cultural import since Kevin Keegan. He will spend next week promoting Children’s Mental Health Week as part of his foundation. There really are hidden depths beyond the metronomic goalscoring.
His family only recently joined him but it seems the kids are already turning a touch Germanic. “They’re in school now and have been skiing the last couple of weekends. Just having that has been great for them. We’ve met a few of the parents at school and made friends with teammates’ wives and kids. Slowly but surely it starts to feel like home. People ask what are the big differences, but a lot of the routine is pretty much the same. You miss friends you have at home or a golf course, but you soon learn about those things here and it becomes part of your home.”
The skiing sounds intriguing, not that £100m strikers are permitted to join in. “I haven’t been yet but I do want to go and watch them. They’re loving it. They’ll be speaking the language before me too.”
All of which is fine but this is Germany and Bayern are obliged to win the Bundesliga – they have won 11 in succession – and Kane has famously never won a trophy.
“It’s hard to win and this season is a prime example of that. People expect Bayern to win every season, just to go and deliver. But it’s been a tough season so far, there’s a long way to go and it’s not been easy. The Champions League is tough, we’ve got Lazio next round. You look at it, it’s probably wide open. I wouldn’t say there’s a clear frontrunner but there’s an expectation to go and win it. It’s different but I enjoy the feeling of competing for titles. We’re in a good title race this season and hopefully come the end of it, we’ll be on top.”
And that in a nutshell is why we’re here. Too often at Spurs, come February there was just fourth place to aim for. Here at Bayern the real season is just starting.
We discuss those Ballon d’Or awards and Fifa’s The Best, in which Kane never features that highly. Last year he was 19th in Ballon d’Or. You sense that moving to Germany and being fully involved in the elite end-of-season games as well as leading England into this summer’s Euros in Germany may move the dial in terms of wider perception. “I’ve had great seasons in the past but not won a team trophy at the end of it, so you’re never really going to be considered for those Ballon d’Ors and individual awards. It comes down to what you achieve as a team. You have to be able to help your team achieve those things. For us, the Bundesliga and Champions League and of course the Euros here in the summer, only by winning them as a team are you going to achieve those individual awards.”
He pauses. “You know me: I don’t like to think about those. I’m just trying to push my team to win and will do the same in the summer with England.” He is after all Captain Sensible, even amid the Bavarian madness.