14 June, Croatia – ‘All Over The Place – Europe’

Having already experienced Pula’s awesome 2,000 year old Roman amphitheatre at the football a couple of nights ago, today was the day to take centre stage during their Roman festival. Scattered around the town are various Roman ruins which we filmed in front of during the afternoon (as well as some extremely highbrow stuff for the CBBC website where I walked around the town square asking people in Croatian to “pull my finger”). Then it was on to the gladiator training. Yes, gladiator training.

Once a year a bunch of gladiator enthusiasts meet up and put on a show to demonstrate what Roman citizens would have been enjoying all those years ago. Naomi and I had a bit of a practice kitted up in ridiculously heavy bits of metal armour (the helmets weighed 25kg and made my head feel like it was about to fall off), and it soon became apparent that these guys really go for it. The swords are blunt or made of wood, and the spears are tipped in rubber, but they seemed very keen on us clobbering each other as hard as we could.

After a quick kebab the stadium had filled up a bit and the entertainment began. It was absolutely savage. About 20 blokes came out two at a time and walloped each other with their various implements as the crowd booed or cheered to decide the loser’s fate (if the loser was lying on the ground then a man would come on with a hammer and whack his helmet to check that he was “dead”). Naomi and I made a promise that we would go easy on each other and before we knew it we were kitted up in second hand sweaty armour and sent out as the final duo.

Unsurprisingly, hauling my massive shield and leather leg and arm protectors around the arena with a heavy metal bucket on my head proved to be quite exhausting. We basically played it for laughs, with me running away and hiding under my shield at one point. This resulted in loud boos from the audience and sealed my fate as the loser in the eyes of the referee when he made his decision a couple of minutes later. Luckily I was spared “death” by Caesar and made it back to the hotel for the England v Italy game, which was a slightly frustrating end to a brilliant day (surely we at least deserved a draw?).

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