NEVER mind a game of two halves, for 60-year-old former Denmark striker Lars Elstrup it’s been a life of two halves.
For the first 30 years his passion was playing footballand living out his dream by becoming a professional.
Elstrup believes he reached his utopia by helping his country win Euro 92, playing a major part by scoring the decisive goal in their 2-1 victory over France — their must-win final group game.
But after quitting the game aged just 30, the last three decades have seen him battling depression and subsequently being diagnosed as bipolar.
But through the darkness he has discovered spirituality and is smiling again thanks to his Indian guru, His Holiness Parama Pujya Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji.
Elstrup said: “It’s true that since retiring from football I’ve been looking for this place in my mind where I am without anxiety and fear.
“I believe I have now found it with my Indian guru. I stopped playing when I was 30. I was worn out, my body and mind was damaged.
“What I have learned in the last 30 years is to look elsewhere to find myself again.
“My Indian guru has a higher consciousness and helps me escape from a busy world. Somewhere I can enjoy a happy and joyful life.
“When I quit football I looked at all different ways of getting my mental strength in a spiritual world with exercise from yoga and meditation.
“I keep my body and mind right. My last depression ended on January 1, 2022.”
As kids growing up, Elstrup and his older brother, Peter, would be forever playing football.
Elstrup followed his sibling from their local team Randers Freja to Brondby, before being quickly spotted by Dutch club Feyenoord.
He spent two seasons at the Dutch club before moving back home to Odense, where he scored 17 goals in 28 league games in the 1988-89 season.
His impressive scoring abilities caught the attention of Ray Harford at Luton, who were in England’s top flight the old Division One back then, and they signed him for £850,000 in 1989.
Elstrup said: “When I joined Luton it was for a club-record fee.
“When I look back to my time at Luton, I cannot convey my thanks to the players and management enough.
“It took me ten games before I scored my first goal at Millwall but the camaraderie and team spirit and help they gave me was unbelievable.
“I knew very little about the Hatters when I joined, apart from the fact they won the Littlewoods Cup in 1988.
“The club was in transformation with players when I joined.
“We had to win the last game of the season at Derby to stay up, which we did.
“The following season, I scored 19 goals — 15 in the league, including three hat-tricks — the highest number of goals in a single season by a Danish player in the English top flight, a record that still stands to this day.
“In an identical twist, we also had to beat Derby to stay up at home that season. It was my last game for the club at Kenilworth Road.
“I scored the second goal to win the match. I left at the end of the 1990-91 season.
“I was homesick and wanted to go back to Odense in 1991, which I did.”
But Elstrup was about to experience a footballing fairytale as Denmark were given a late call-up to Euro 92 in Sweden.
He said: “I was on holiday, staying at my parents’ summer house.
“It was two or three days before the Euros when I was contacted and asked to be part of the squad.
“Yugoslavia had qualified ahead of us but a civil war had caused them to pull out of the tournament. We had to beat France in our final group game.
“They were unbeaten in 22 games. I came on in the 68th minute and scored the winner ten minutes later. We qualified to the semi-finals. It was quite unbelievable.
‘It was very emotional for me’
“Peter Schmeichel then saved a penalty from Marco van Basten in the semi-final shootout with Holland.
“I converted one of the penalties and we beat Germany in the final. It was an absolute fairytale.
“The day after we went to Denmark to an unbelievable reception.”
On April 24, last year, the former Hatters favourite made a surprise appearance at Kenilworth Road for the first time in 32 years.
Elstrup was the Hatters’ guest of honour for their 2-1 win over Middlesbrough.
He added: “It was very emotional for me — to be welcomed back with such warmth by the management and fans.
“I was met in reception with great smiles and chief executive Gary Sweet cancelled a meeting to see me.
“I had never met him before. I wanted to shake his hand but he said, ‘Come here, Lars, that is not enough’ and gave me a big hug. I felt very humbled.
“Being back at Kenilworth Road brought back so many fond memories.”
- The Unhappy Hero is published by Pitch, priced £25.