A 62-year-old was smashed in the face by a thief - but then chased him across town to have him arrested.

Brave football steward Nick Fears encountered the intruder as he was locking a changing room while Lewes FC played host to Southampton in a preseason friendly on Wednesday night.

Mr Fears has been working at the Dripping Pan, Lewes's ground, for four years.

He said: "I locked the main gate and went to get the keys to lock up the dressing rooms.

When I came back there was this guy in a suit with a couple of sports bags slung over his shoulder.

"He started to say he was a player and was leaving on the train because he hadn't been picked to play. But I knew they had come on a coach so it just didn't add up.

"When I challenged him he hit me and pushed past me. I ran after him and grabbed him but we both fell through the gate and he ran off.

"Luckily the other two lads were around too so we gave chase and called the police.

By the time we got to the train station he had jumped over the tracks and scarpered."

Police arrived at the scene within minutes and asked Mr Fears, who had been accompanied on the chase by Lewes FC striker Jean Michel Sigere, to drive around the town with them to look for the culprit.

To their surprise he pointed out a suspect within minutes - enjoying a drink outside the John Harvey Tavern, in nearby Cliffe High Street.

Retired postman Mr Fears, who has had two hip replacements in the last four years, told The Argus: "I used to play a lot of football and cricket but I can't move as fast these days.

I'm still a bit sore - it was just so unexpected.

"I suppose it was stupid in some ways because he could have really gone for me but I was just thinking it would be an embarrassment to the club if he had got away.

"I am a bit down right now but I'll be back at the next match."

Lewes FC director Steve White said: "Nick is a bit shaken up but it was a very brave thing to do in the circumstances."

Championship side Southampton went on to beat Conference South team Lewes 2-0. The players later gave statements to the police and did not leave the town until after midnight.

The thief had stolen wallets, several mobile phones, watches and iPods from the Southampton dressing room, but everything was recovered and handed back to the players.

Lewes inspector Viv Johnson said: "I am shocked and appalled this happened to a visiting team.

It was an opportunist crime and he only had about three minutes to get into the changing rooms.

It is a reminder to everyone to be vigilant. Nick was a hero in this situation. It proves how effective the stewards are."

  • A 24-year-old man, from Hertfordshire, was arrested on suspicion of theft and was yesterday being questioned by detectives in Lewes.