When I was working at Swan Hunters Shipbuilders in Wallsend as a storekeeper during the
late 1970s and early 1980s myself and some of the other store keepers used to play football
on some grassland behind the bank side canteen. Sometimes we used to pick teams, at other
times we just used to have a kick about and occasionally we used to play cricket or rugby.
Over the years I often wondered if the Roman troops based at Segedunum ever played
football type games whilst they were off duty. At the time we never thought about the fact
that we were playing over the remains of a Roman fort or walking in other people’s footsteps.
In fact, although we knew that there were Roman remains some where near by, we didn't
know exactly where.
Since then the sight has been excavated to reveal the remains of the Roman fort Segedunum.
And eventually I did do some research and discovered that Roman troops did in fact play
several types of ball game. Amongst these were such games as follis, paganica, episkyros,
phaininda and a game called harpastum, or the small ball game. However, most of these
games were throwing games or tennis type games where the hands and forearms were used as
bats or rackets, or rugby type games. Harpastum was a rugby type game played on a pitch a
little smaller than a football pitch with a line across the middle between teams of between
five to twelve players. The ball was passed by hand from player to player like in rugby.
Tackling was allowed and broken bones were frequent occurrences.
The Roman writer, Cicero, makes reference to boys kicking balls about the streets and
described the case of a man killed whilst having a shave when a ball was kicked into a
barber’s shop, hitting the barber shaving him. Sounds like a good old kick about to me!
However, this is only one of a few mentions of a ball being kicked about mentioned in
Roman records. Yet, as kicking a ball about is so natural, I’m sure then Alanus Shearus and
his mates must have kicked his ball about on the fields of Segedunum, just like me and my
workmates did a couple of thousand years or so later.