He helped keep Luton up and won Euro 92 with Denmark, but then some even more unlikely things started happening. Neil Rose takes a sympathetic view
You know what you are getting with Scandinavian imports, by and large. They like British football and settle in quickly, sharing our admiration of work rate and commitment. And they speak the lingo, even adopting local accents in an amusing way. But then there is Lars Elstrup, who played merry hell with this stereotype by chucking in the game and embracing anarcho-Buddhism. Elstrup’s fire burnt briefly but, for Luton Town fans, brightly.
Still Luton’s record signing at £850,000 from Odense in his native Denmark, the strong, pacy striker scored 27 goals in 60 games, and played a crucial role in keeping the club in the old First Division in 1991. After an early and fairly unproductive spell at Feyenoord, Elstrup made his name at Odense, helping them to the Danish title in 1989. He joined Luton soon afterwards and had an unconvincing first season (five of his nine goals came in the League Cup against Mansfield). Indeed, Elstrup’s later conversion to extreme religion can possibly be traced back to losing his place to Iain Dowie.
It all changed in the 1990-91 season, when he only missed two games. Fans still remember him outpacing Des Walker at the City Ground before scoring, a classy hat-trick at Norwich, and the second goal on a final day 2-0 win at home to Derby which secured Town’s status in the top division. But although he has since spoken fondly of Luton (and, strangely, of playing snooker with Mark Pembridge), an ugly financial dispute followed in the close season, which saw Elstrup go back to Odense. Returning manager David Pleat replaced him with an ageing Brian Stein long on nostalgia but short on everything else, and Luton were duly relegated.
Lars kept it together long enough to make brief but vital contributions to his country’s shock Euro 92 triumph. He only left the bench twice – both times to replace Brian Laudrup – but his goal against France took the Danes through to a semi-final against Holland, where he scored in the shoot-out. His record for Denmark was 13 goals in 34 games – including a double on his debut to beat Sweden in 1988 – but after another decent season in which he scored the opener in Odense’s cup final win, he walked out on football and dropped out all together.
Changing his name to Darando (which means “the river that streams into the sea”), Elstrup joined the anarcho-Buddhist Wild Goose sect, although he now grumpily denies reports that orgies were a feature of its activities. If they happened, it seems, they wait- ed until he’d popped down the shops. Clearly dissatisfied, he soon left to set up his own new age community – Heart of the Sun – and various stories filtered into the press, such as him being arrested for indecent exposure at a shopping centre.
It is all too easy to make fun of such people, however genuine they may be, so we hardly need the help of the five snaps in the picture gallery on Lars’s website (www.larselstrup.dk): a dog having a stretch, an older-looking picture of four blond children, a black cat on a bed, the backsides of two curvy young women wearing nothing more than matching bikini bottoms, and a nude, al fresco Lars, no longer, the evidence suggests, overly excited by the whole going naked outdoors thing.
Having gone through many traumas while finding himself, Lars tried to get back into football at Odense, but nothing came of it. Now 39, he is mining the popular “footballer gone bonkers” seam with some industry. He now offers seminars on new age topics (30 per cent deposit required at time of booking), while words of wisdom, such as “Live today. Yesterday is past. Tomorrow is future”, drop from his lips.
“In some respects, I do this to provoke people,” Lars said after the shopping centre incident (although he wasn’t quite so crazy as to do anything like that when Steve McMahon was in the vicinity). “I like experiencing people’s reactions. Some people may take my message to be ‘sod off’ and others an offer of sex. I am very aware of people’s reactions and love the fact that people recognise me as Lars Elstrup.”
And when that happens, Luton fans are among the few who do not make off rapidly in the opposite direction. But, for the sake of clarity, that doesn’t mean we all want to have sex with him.
From WSC 184 June 2002. What was happening this month
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