It was thrilling, an excitement that bound you in its own terms. Powerless, you are in thrall to a group of men chasing a ball! Enthralled once meant ‘enslaved’, a thrall meant a slave. Now we are willingly enslaved by our emotions, in thrall to excitement. We need an occasional injection of thrills, and this is the season of the World Cup and Wimbledon. Football and tennis to dish up a feast of thrills. Not all is to our taste. If it were, would there be thrills?

When you think of it, is there something ridiculous about getting excited over two teams of 12 men competing to kick a ball between posts supporting a net? It must have started as a way of passing free time, and then rules emerged, then friendly competitions, then ones between unpaid amateurs, and now between highly paid professionals in contests followed on screens large or small worldwide. Absurd? Not if there are plenty of thrills crammed into a short space of time and plentiful money can be made.

A thrill in medical terms is a vibratory movement felt when a hand is placed on the surface of a body – all very clinical, but we can embellish that with the truth of our own experience. In medieval times a sharp arrowhead could thrill or pierce armour more effectively with a vibrating movement. A thrill, a quivering movement, arrows of sensation – all for a game!

Absurd?

The word ‘thrill’ is close to ‘thrall’, which once meant slave, now obsolete except in the verb ‘to enthral’. Does the desire for thrills come for the need to triumph in self-defence and self-propagation, bringing pleasure in reassurance of one’s physical or emotional safety?

I was reading about the hero of the moment, one Harry Kane who, as I write this, is the striker who has scored most goals in the world cup. He may hang on to that title for a few more days as England is still in the World Cup having won a nail-biting shoot-out yesterday evening. He’s a lad from Chingford. Where’s that? Now we know. It’s an area in the outskirts of London, ‘on the map’ for the first time in most people’s minds. The reassurance of ‘our local lad’, ‘one of us’, code for, if we’d wanted to, we might have done it too…

Some years ago I felt I needed more exercise that my usual brisk walks into the centre of Beverley for groceries. So I convinced my son that he needed to improve his tennis and we signed up for the local tennis club. This arrangement didn’t last long as I was informed that I missed too many balls… Sometime after my weak efforts a young man, Kyle Edmond, practised on the same courts. He’s now England’s number 1 seed at Wimbledon this year. The former champion Andy Murray has withdrawn because he is unfit through injury. Kyle is our local lad. Local pride. The ‘I played on the same court’ syndrome for me.

The problem with thrills is when the arrow stops quivering. Should one transfer one’s loyalties when one’s champion is defeated, or turn away because the thrills aren’t good enough and delight in superior skills doesn’t sufficiently compensate for home-grown loyalty? Too cerebral. Few thrills.

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