Ex-Luton defender Elliott admitted he thought he was signing for Arsenal or Spurs ahead of Hatters switch

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A quick chat with then Town boss David Pleat was enough for centre half

Former Luton defender Paul Elliott has spoken of how he originally thought he was going to be signing for one of the north London giants in Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur ahead of his move to Kenilworth Road back in 1983, but revealed one meeting with David Pleat let him know Town were the club for him.

The centre half, who also played for today’s opponents Aston Villa, was impressing as a youngster for Charlton Athletic under Lennie Lawrence, who went on to manage Luton himself, when the club hit financial difficulties and were looking to sell some of their better players.

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With Elliott one of the most desirable, he had read the Gunners were reportedly looking to lodge a bid for him, so when told by Lawrence that a new club had come in, his interest spiked immediately, anticipating a move to Highbury.

Paul Elliott wins a tackle against Mark Walters during his time with Luton - pic: Hatters HeritagePaul Elliott wins a tackle against Mark Walters during his time with Luton - pic: Hatters Heritage
Paul Elliott wins a tackle against Mark Walters during his time with Luton - pic: Hatters Heritage

That didn’t change at all during the car journey either to meet his prospective new employers, as carrying on the story, Elliott said: “The club hit financial problems and went into receivership.

"They sold Paul Walsh the year before and I remember there were lots of rumours that Arsenal were very interested and had made a bid.

“I remember reading the Evening Standard that Arsenal were going to make an offer for Elliot, they really want Elliot.

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"When the deal was done, I remember the day I was leaving, Lennie said to me, 'big man, go home and put on your best suit, we’re going to sell you.

"'Meet me back at the Valley, I’m going to take you to meet the manager.'

"He didn’t tell me who the manager was, so we drove up and he’s driving north London, A6, towards the Cockfosters Hotel and I was thinking it’s either got to Arsenal or Tottenham.

"Then he’s pulled up at the West Lodge Hotel and I was thinking, it’s got to be Arsenal!

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"He turned round and said 'there’s a great manager inside, a really progressive club,' and I’m just thinking, just tell me, and he said 'it’s David Pleat from Luton Town.'

"I thought, oh, right, okay, I went into the hotel, and let’s just say I had 15 minutes with David Pleat and I knew that Luton was going to be a great move for me.”On how that one chat with Town's legendary manager Pleat was enough for Elliot to know Kenilworth Road was the right destination for him, he continued: “He said, 'listen Paul, you’re top class, you’re an outstanding youngster.

"'You’re 18 years of age, played over 80 games in the first team, you’ve got a lot of game time, you’re an outstanding prospect, we’ve just got promoted from the Second Division, you’re going straight into the first team, you’re good enough to play in the First Division, you’re going to be a great player for Luton Town and for me, do you want to come?'

"I remember saying 'of course I want to come,' and it ended up being a fabulous move.

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"David is a great man, a great friend, we’ve always been close, even after my time at Luton.”

The manager had clearly done his homework on Elliott as well, asking two of Town’s stars at the time just what they thought of him, as he continued: “He said to Walshy (Paul Walsh), 'who was the most difficult player you’ve played against?'

"He said it was me as he knew he couldn’t get away from me as I could mark well, I could run, I could jump, I was competitive, I was physical.

"I remember when I was still at Charlton, we had drawn against Luton in a cup game, so Steiny (Brian Stein) and Walshy, I played against them both at the Valley.

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"They won the game, but let's just say I had a good day at the office, so that was the conduit to that, as I’m very close to Brian still."

Asked if he had known much about the Hatters, who were a newly promoted Division One side, at the time, he continued: “What I really picked up is when Luton got promoted, they were talking about this great team.

"David Pleat was a great manager and it always caught me, how they played on the front foot.

"The football they played was just absolutely terrific and I saw some of the teams when they got promoted, I knew they had problems at the back, because of the way they played.

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"They always got hurt on the counter attack and David just had this offensive minded football philosophy of how he wanted to play.

"The passing, the moving, the interchanging in position, I thought wow, they’re a really good side, but often they’d get caught and be exposed flying forward and leaving spaces.

"You could see thinking about it now, why I was David’s kind of centre half, but David then was fast emerging as a prominent manager.

"They were a team who had just got promoted and playing with that confidence and a breath of fresh air, they were playing some great football and had some great games.”

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Elliott went on to play 73 times for the Hatters in total, scoring three goals, before moving to Aston Villa two years later.

He went on to have a terrific career, playing abroad in Italy and also heading to Chelsea for £1.4m as well.

It was at Stamford Bridge that he had to call it a day, suffering a serious knee injury in September 1992.

Since hanging his boots up though, Elliott has gone on to make a success of time away from football, adding: "I did my right knee. but I wasn’t going to complain as if I look back on my career, I had a fabulous career.

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"There were some milestones too, the first black English player to play in Italy, which was very significant at the time.

"Then going to Scotland, winning Scottish Player of the Year, playing in some big games and then getting a big move back to Chelsea.

"I won Player of the Year and was the first black captain as well.

"The challenges for black players at the time, the first black captain in the Premier League as well, so I’m proud of those, breaking down all those barriers.

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“I've been very blessed and then went back to school, got myself educated and equally had as good a career in football administration in the roles that I’ve done, currently with the FA, UEFA, Charlton.

"Everyone’s legs slow down in the end on the field, so you have to transition to off the field in the boardroom and try to make a difference, for people of colour, young players, just try to make a difference in football.

"That’s what it’s all about, so I’ve fulfilled a dream off the pitch."