Ah yes, Twitter. Of all the dank and shifty corners of our planet, it still retains a terrifying uniqueness for the following two reasons. Firstly, it's the only place on earth where journalists consider themselves to be celebrities. Secondly (and arguably much worse), it's the only place on earth where celebrities consider themselves to be journalists.
Now, most of the time, the latter isn't really a problem. R'n'B stars keeping us abreast of the news is largely harmless, and salvation from TV comics and their political moralising and desperate pleas for a book deal is a mere jab of the unfollow button away. But when football's involved it's considerably harder to ignore, because it has this awful habit of becoming national news.
Not even three years ago, clubs, agents and worried mothers alike had finally ushered footballers into some nirvana of public relations. Thanks largely to the invention of X-Box live and nightclubs sectioning off nice areas with a velvet rope and a 7ft doorman, it was becoming harder and harder for players to do anything wildly stupid in full view of a gawping public. From the details of contract negotiations, to simply admitting who their favourite Spice Girl was, every last nugget of intel was being squirrelled away by an increasingly media-savvy set of representatives. And it was really, really boring.
But in less time than it takes to build an actual stadium, a glitzy and grimy mecca of footballing back-slapping, bitching, and brouhaha-ing has been constructed for a worldwide audience to come and watch the stars make gleaming dunderheads of themselves. A 24-hour showreel of career-suicide with tickets coming free with any internet connection.
Twitter has allegedly “reconnected” footballers with the fans. But these aren't the halcyon days of our dads drinking in the same pubs as their beloved Uniteds, Citys and other venerable clubs. Rather, we're now being given a stark reminder of just how detached the bubble they live in has become from the rest of us.
The latest example, in a line so long you'd need to harness the power of TWO pairs of Dennis Taylor's glasses to see where it began, came courtesy of Ireland's young winger (and star of the Die Hard trilogy) James McClean. He managed to bite his tongue during his non-selection this weekend's World Cup qualifier, but spewed up 140 characters of abuse at his manager as soon as he got his phone in his hand. First the tweet was deleted, then the account itself.
A week earlier, Leon Knight, the former Chelsea, QPR, Huddersfield, Sheff Wednesday, Brighton, Swansea, Barnsley, MK Dons, Wycombe, Rushden, Thrasyvoulos, Hamilton, Queen of the South, Coleraine and Glentoran player, successfully managed to get his account suspended and, allegedly, a rap on the door from the local constabulary after attempting to name and shame various girls he'd taken a disliking to.
Add that to Rio Ferdinand's casual RT of what was perceived by some to be casual racism, Ravel Morrison's plethora of homophobic outbursts, and Joey Barton's endless faux-losophy and one-man crusade to ensure Morrisey has enough hairspray money to last until they're both headed for that great Strangeways in the sky.
If you've missed any of these, don't worry, there'll be another one along soon enough.
That is, of course, unless football clubs start taking their social media responsibility seriously. Those of you who've been unfortunate to have lost your job this year will no doubt have seen that people tend to assume that actions performed online are largely repercussion-free. In this modern cyber world we inhabit, diminished responsibility no longer comes as a result of safety in numbers, but moreover from behind the perceived safety of a computer or mobile phone screen.
High profile footballers, whose very ascent to fame meant they were constantly egged-on, protected, spoiled, and otherwise bigged-up, compound the problem further. How does an agent explain the concept of consequence to someone who he'll have spent years trying to condition it out of? “Remember how I told you that you're great, and that you can do anything you wanted in life, and that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks? Yeah, well, forget that. Just instagram pictures of your next Nandos and keep your mouth shut from now on.”
Thus the onus lies with the clubs themselves. Either they splash out for a two-day course where someone sits the players down with a big chalkboard and shows them what it is and isn't ok to talk about on the internet (X-Factor, fishing, new boots – good. Manager, skin colour, court cases – bad), or we might well be entering the final days of transparent player expression. Every tweet routed through the media desk and screened for approval by some sort of tech guru with an awful goatee and floral shirt, neutered of controversy, and full of positivity and correct punctuation. Yawn.
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