Ex-Hatter Paul Elliott insists former Luton boss David Pleat was 'one of the best' he ever worked with

Centre half spent two years at Kenilworth Road with the legendary manager
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Ex-Luton defender Paul Elliott insisted that Hatters legend David Pleat was ‘one of the best’ managers he has ever worked with, due to the culture he created within the dressing room at Kenilworth Road.

The praise for a man who led Town to the top flight and kept them there for four seasons before moving to Tottenham Hotspur is high indeed, as Elliott, who spent two years at Luton, making 73 appearances, also played for Aston Villa, Pisa, Celtic and Chelsea in what was an impressive 14-year long professional career.

However, it was Pleat that had one of the biggest imprints on Elliott, who was a teenager when joining the Hatters from Charlton Athletic for a fee of around £100,000 in 1983, as the former centre half said: “What he does, David created the right culture for the club.

Paul Elliott goes for goal during his time with the Hatters - pic: Hatters HeritagePaul Elliott goes for goal during his time with the Hatters - pic: Hatters Heritage
Paul Elliott goes for goal during his time with the Hatters - pic: Hatters Heritage

"So many things when you talk about football is the culture of the dressing room. It can make or break a club.

"We were a very diverse team, players of colour knew they had a pathway to get into the first team.

"I remember one game we probably had seven or eight black players in the team.

"It didn’t matter to anyone at the time, but when you look at the historical issues and challenges with racism, I had a lot of abuse as my career progressed.

"But at Luton, David protected you, and he didn’t care what you looked like, where you came from.

"If you could play, whether you were 16, 19, he didn't care about your background, if you’re good enough for his team, you play in his team.

"He had fine qualities as a human being as remember, David being Jewish as well, he would have had his own challenges, so he understood what it was like to be discriminated against.

"When you've got somebody who wants the best, to be the best and wants the best around him, treats everybody equitably and fairly, while he had a great record of producing kids as well, unbelievable, that’s what made his whole career.

"So David Pleat is one of the best managers I’ve ever played for and my only sadness is that he should probably have been England manager at one point.

"He could work with the best, tactically very astute, very innovative and he’s a top manager and a top person as well. His man management was excellent.

"I still get on extremely well with him, I always have done and he respects my mindset and opinions.

"He admires what I’ve done in my career, transitioning in administration after football, the impact that I’ve made and I’m honoured to know him.

"One of my roles now, I’m a director at Charlton and David just came down to a game and said to me, 'Paul I’m terribly proud of you.’

"’Look what you’ve done, for the FA, for UEFA, the work you’ve done, boards that you’ve chaired, the FA inclusion advisory board, sat on the FA board and now you’re a director of a football club, the same very football club that you came from.'

“David’s a wonderful man, a great football man, and David is in the league of your Brian Clough’s, your Terry Venables', he’s a proper football man.”

One of Pleat's best moments during his time at Luton was keeping the club in the top flight courtesy of a 1-0 victory at Manchester City on the final day of the 1982-83 season.

With both sides in danger of the drop and the winner staying up, Elliott was part of a visiting defence that kept out their opponents at Maine Road, Raddy Antic coming off the bench to score a later winner as the Hatters remained in Division One.

The fact that Town emerged victorious was a Pleat masterstroke according to Elliott, who continued: "I remember the tension, the intensity, David was obviously nervous but that didn't come through to the players.

"Brian (Stein) was magnificent in the dressing room, Steiny had been injured, but David took a chance and brought him back.

"I was nervous before the game, 40,000 at Maine Road, a huge game and I just remember when he made the substitution, Raddy came on and I’m thinking, 'we can still win this game’

"Raddy scored and then we knew that was it, and it’s such an important moment in the game with five or so minutes left, but we deserved it.

"David was always so positive, always played the game on the front offensive foot with panache, creativity and innovation.

"He only ever knew how to win a game, and the fact that he brought on Raddy Antic to play a more offensive role, and it was him who scored, that is that kind of tactically astute and positive mindset of David as a coach.

"A lot of teams never had that philosophy but it was embedded in David’s DNA.

"That was the way we play and entertain, it’s the way we always play.

"It’s the philosophy he has at the club, pass, move, first pass, can you play forward? He always told me that.

"We played in exactly the same way, so it’s a measure of still wanting to win the game, making that substitution and we got our rewards when he scored and we knew then that psychologically, that just took Manchester City out of it, there was no way back.

“The euphoria, the excitement on everybody’s face, we knew we’d done it.

"We had a few challenging moments, they pushed forward, but defensively that’s when me and Mal (Donaghy) were in our element, defending our box, which is what we did.

"I remember the feeling, everything's a feeling in life, when that whistle went, what it meant to all of us in the dressing room was just total euphoria, unadulterated euphoria.

“We went back to Luton that night and we went to our favourite nightclub, Ronelles, and it was just the best night I've ever had in my life.

"I've done some great things in my career, but that was one of the best days of my whole career.

"The game itself, then what followed after as it was like winning the FA Cup, that’s what it felt like."

Despite the clear affinity he had for his manager at Luton, it didn't stop Elliott taking the tough decision to part company with both Pleat and the Hatters in 1985 to join Aston Villa for a fee of £450,000.

Having suffered a broken leg which kept him out for 10 months and then unable to dislodge Steve Foster from his spot in the centre of Town's defence, it meant the then England U21 international knew it was time to go.

He added: "It was just a silly tackle against Leicester City, one that I didn’t need to make on Alan Smith.

“I tried to get the ball, went through the back of him and I ended up coming off the worst.

"It meant a long time out of the game, but then I got myself back and that’s the most important thing.

“I got back and I think my contract was coming to the end that season, so I could have stayed at the club.

"Everton wanted me on loan, David didn’t want me to go out on loan and that’s why I handed in a transfer request as I wanted to play.

“I told David, either send me on loan or sell me, because I want to play, but in my heart I wanted to play at Luton.

"Fozzie came in, did well, David paid a bag of chips for him, about 50 grand, so I can appreciate he’s bought his experience.

"Fozzie is a nice guy, I’ve always got on well with him, but I know Luton had certain financial obligations so it probably worked best for all parties.

"I was still going to a top club in Villa, a big club, the money was right for Luton and Luton already had a replacement.

"The day I went, it was sad, but it was a move in the right direction.

"It was progression for me and that was the point.

"Some players would have just sat there, waited, seen out the season, but because I’d always played from such a young age, I always wanted to play.

"Okay if I wasn’t good enough, I accept that, but I knew I’d proven myself as an 18-year-old as a top player playing in the top division.

"That’s the difference, because I'd established myself and I was very confident and assured of my ability.

"If I had not played as many games, then it’s a different scenario isn’t it, you're inclined to sit out and wait for your opportunity, but I knew I was a top player playing at Charlton at 16, 17, going to Luton at 18, 19.

"I’d always played at the top level, so I believed that was my platform to play.”