Ex-Hatter Lars Elstrup admits he came close to leaving Luton ahead of record-breaking season

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Former Town forward discusses his time at Kenilworth Road

Life at Luton Town could have turned out very differently for former forward Lars Elstrup.

The Danish born striker moved to Kenilworth Road in the summer of 1989 after catching the eye of the Hatters when playing for Randers back in his home country.

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He signed for then boss Ray Harford for a fee of £850,000, a club record for the Hatters at the time, but with the club in Division One, now the Premier League, Elstrup struggled to get going in his new surroundings, taking nine games to get off the mark in the league when scoring in a 1-1 draw at Millwall.

Wrestling with injuries during the campaign, the Denmark international only managed to hit the net three more times in the top flight, making 23 appearances, 10 of them from the bench.

That saw him almost call time on his sojourn to England, but while heading back to his home country to recover in the summer, he had a stern word with himself and decided to make a go of his time with Luton.

Retelling the story, Elstrup said: “The first season was a bit difficult and it was hard.

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“It was hard to adapt to British football, and it took me some games before I scored my first goal and I didn’t score all that many goals in the first season.

Lars Elstrup blocks a shot for the HattersLars Elstrup blocks a shot for the Hatters
Lars Elstrup blocks a shot for the Hatters

“I was about to leave the club, I went to talk to Brest in France, then went back on holiday to Denmark and had my time off.

“I did some training at the Odense football ground with another Danish injured player, Per Pedersen, he went to Blackburn and we did some training on our own while recovering from injury.

“We enjoyed some time together, him and I, so when I went back to Luton I was in a bit better shape.

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“Before I went back to Luton I said to myself, ‘give it a shot now,’ and I remember one time we were at a running track and we were doing some runs.

“There was a 400 metre run, and that time I said to myself, ‘I want to win this race.’

“There was maybe five or six players running and I wanted to beat them, and Iain Dowie was amongst those six players.

“So I gave it my all and anyone who’s run a 400 metres knows how hard it is.

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“I ran it and I beat them and after that, Iain Dowie said, ‘f**king hell,’ and he was impressed.

“I went to the commercial box, put my head over and I puked.

“All the other players left to the cars, we had to go back to Kenilworth Road for changing and showering.

"I was a bit concerned that they would leave without me as I got a lift, so I could not find my way back to Kenilworth Road, that was my main concern when I was standing there puking, they waited for me and I got back!”

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With Elstrup now in a good mentally and physically, there were further signs he was ready to show the kind of form that had seen Town splash the cash for him during a practice session ahead of the 1990-91 campaign, as he continued: “Pre-season with Jim Ryan and John Faulkner, we went to a training camp in Scotland and I was coming back in better shape and more relaxed.

“During training there was a cross coming from the left and Darron McDonough was marking me.

“I’m a left footed player, but I used my right foot to take the ball in between my legs to outmanoeuvre the defender, placing the ball precisely, so I could kick it with my right foot and I put it in the to right corner without a chance for Alec Chamberlain to get it.

“Darren McDonough said straight away, ‘well done Lars’, and then when you are relaxed and you enjoy the football, you just do things instinctively and intuitively.

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“Then you can go beyond your own limitations and expectations of what you think you can do and that was what was actually happening in that small situation.

“Also when you practice on those training pitches, it will come through during games.

"If you have this loose mind, relaxed attitude, you will be able to perform at a higher level when you go into the games and that was a case for me during that season.”

With his confidence boosted, Elstrup went on to have a brilliant second term for the Hatters, in which he became a firm favourite, scoring 15 league goals, which remains the most a Town player has managed in the top flight during recent years, with only Mick Harford’s tally of 22 in the 1985-86 season bettering it.

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He was up and running with a goal in the 2-1 defeat at Arsenal and bagged a double as Southampton were beaten 2-1.

A hat-trick at Norwich sealed a 3-1 win, while there was another brace against Nottingham Forest with a strike that Luton fans still talk about to this day, when he outpaced the apparently unbeatable Des Walker to find the net in a 2-2 draw.

Estrup added: “I managed to score 15 goals which is still the record in Premier League, First Division for a Danish player in British football.

“I scored three cup goals and my breakthrough was the game against Nottingham Forest away, when we drew 2-2 and I scored two fantastic goals, beating Des Walker in a sprint, plus another defender, plus the keeper.

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“Stuart Pearce was left back, that was a tremendous game for me.

“I also scored three goals away against Norwich and we won that game 3-1.

“It was brilliant, I made my name, I showed my qualities, and enjoyed that season so much.”