Football: Devotion beyond the call of Forest

That was the week that was
Is Stuart Astill Britain's most devoted fan? Some sad soul somewhere may reckon otherwise, but among Nottingham Forest supporters, the 52-year- old former railway engineer is certainly without rival.

On Saturday, bachelor Stuart donned his red and white scarf to clock up his 1,000th consecutive Forest match, an achievement marked with a double presentation at half-time during Forest's 1-0 win at Ipswich.

He has seen every game, home and away, since an invitation to be an usher at a friend's wedding caused him to miss Preston's visit to the City Ground in September 1973. "I've only missed two since 1969, in fact," he said, "and both of those were for weddings. The 1,000 is just League matches. Counting all the cup and European games, I've probably watched 2,000 since I first went."

Stuart's father tried to indoctrinate him as a Derby fan, but when the Rams were away Stuart's mates would lure him to Nottingham and Forest eventually captured his heart. Ironically, his first match at the City Ground, on 10 November 1956, involved a Brian Clough hat-trick in a 4- 0 win for Middlesbrough.

The closest he has been to seeing his unbroken run end came, by coincidence, on another trip to Ipswich in the early Eighties, when the supporters' coach broke down at Cambridge.

"We were resigned to missing the game," Stuart recalled, "but when the driver went to phone the coach firm in Nottingham, the fellow in the phone box ahead of him just happened to be a fitter from a local bus depot. He fixed up a replacement vehicle for us and we scrambled into Portman Road at five to three."

Stuart, a former club member who became a shareholder with last spring's takeover, received a limited edition plate from Forest and a cut-glass decanter from the supporters' club. "I've been lucky to keep my health and, touch wood, I'll keep on for another 1,000 now."