One hundred and forty characters is sufficient to get footballers into trouble, bring them closer to fans, and offer a little insight into their lives.
Jack Wilshere opened a Twitter account.
September 30th 2010, Wilshere— Hello.
A tentative start. Is there anyone out there to acknowledge him? A few hours later he looks forward to the release of the video game FIFA 11. This concludes his first day as a twitter.
October 1st. He posts a blurry cell phone photo-portrait from the back seat of a car. He doesn’t appear contorted by his outstretched arm pointing the camera back at him. He also doesn’t have the self-portrait face people often make when taking pictures of themselves.
He could be sharing a ride with someone who took the photo with his phone, or he framed it to look like someone took the photo. It’s another introduction, but now embedded with a reply, even if staged. He’s still unsure if he really does exists in this techno-social thing.
He’s also concerned about those out there who might be mistaking him for an imposter. October 3rd, Wilshere— I can assure u this is the real jack wilshere.. I will upload a pic of my hotel room before the chelsea game!
Wilshere commits his next three tweets —via web and then via Twitter for Blackberry— to establishing that this twitter emits from the real Jack Wilshere. The first two are texts. The third is a photo taken in the hotel room before the Chelsea game, just as he assured us.
Wilshere holds an A1-sized sign with his twitter address, underscored with his signature, and under this it says “The Real Twitter”, which authenticates him beyond doubt. If he’s tentative, he’s also deliberate and sincere.
Tweeting his own twitter address as an image is the length he’s gone to proves he’s the real Jack Wilshere as he navigates his emergence as a public figure. Unless he travels with a tripod, it was necessary to have someone take this important photo.
Following the Chelsea game, Wilshere tweets twice that he is gutted by the result. The two tweets are separated by a day and trip to Norwich to join the U21s. He woke Monday morning with that shitty we-lost-again-to-Chelsea feeling waiting for him, yet the three tweets are excessively punctuated with exclamation points. He shakes off the ponderousness and looks ahead to the next game. He’s mastered the athlete’s form of remembering and forgetting.
The next day, following a successful morning training session, Wilshere’s up and ready to tweet. October 5th, Wilshere—In the hotel with lansbury..think he should get a twitter?
Four hours pass. When Wilshere returns, he mentions nothing about what he’s been doing. Instead, there’s an announcement. Wilshere—Henri Lansbury now on twitter. Follow him @henri_lansbury. He is the future!
Link to Lansbury. The first two tweets on his page are an exchange between them from their respective hotel rooms. Lansbury is about to head over to Wilshere’s room to play table tennis. This takes place before Wilshere’s Lansbury announcement. Flipping back to Wilshere’s page, it appears that they may have paused their game, so that Wilshere could make the introduction. Then flipping back to Lansbury again, 20-25 minutes pass. Lansbury— Just beat@jack_wilshere at table tennis 11 3 I am the king
For a brief time, the two appear to have an exclusive Twitter exchange. If one follows only Wilshere, the unveiling comes off spontaneous. That the evidence to prove otherwise is easily accessible doesn’t seem too important to them, which is part of the humor.
Wilshere and Lansbury have been at Arsenal Academy together since Wilshere joined in 2001 at age 9. Lansbury is two years older than Wilshere and joined Arsenal two years earlier. For England, they’ve played together at each stage with the exception of the senior team. Career aspirations bind players, but life on buses, airplanes, and in hotels playing table tennis is where friendships form.
Lansbury is a different creature. With less first team experience than Wilshere, he hasn’t had the public exposure that goes along with it. In interviews on Arsenal TV, Lansbury is diffident. He hardly looks at the camera. He is soft spoken and polite; his replies could appear diminutive as well, except that he conveys an uncontainable eagerness to play football and break into the first team.
But on Twitter, Lansbury is liberated, a completely different kid. There is no Wilsherean existential questioning. Instead, he tweets what comes to mind. Once introduced, he out-tweets Wilshere; over the first two days Lansbury tweets thirteen times to Wilshere’s five— all via Twitter for Blackberry. Wilshere goes quiet for long periods, while Lansbury tweets from team bonding sessions and the massage table. October 5th, Lansbury— Sorry not off jack and no happy endings ahahaha.
Lansbury is into his music, primarily hip hop and grime from what’s been tweeted. For him, music is not just a filler for down time, but offer chances for him to engage an interest. He’s a friend or an acquaintance of rapper Nicki Minaj, who pops in once, on October 5th, when Lansbury replies to her. If paths cross in London he says, they should hang out. He devotes an entire tweet on October 6th to quoting lyrics from Lil Wayne. On October 11th, he posts a photo of his Ipod as he buying the new JME album Blam!. Lansbury— About to dload Blam!
He’s enjoying his life. He’s always got something going on. Throughout, adolescent banter is a primary source of entertainment. Sometimes it’s nonsensical. While in Romania watching TV, he tweets finding Animal Planet. In a single phrase he declares it’s perfect entertainment and that he’s bored. October 11th, Lansbury— In romania watchin tv and what do I find animal planet can’t beat it ahahhaha sooooo bored !
But neither is the twitter mindless, the real Henry Lansbury comes through. October 7th, Lansbury—Gettin massage and if ur wondering my hairs white but the light makes it look ginger lmao ahaha
It looks as if Lansbury held his Blackberry above his head and just snapped a photo, catching Phil Jones doing who knows what. At some point thereafter, Lansbury must have looked at the photo and saw that his bleached hair took on an awful golden yellow, which he thought hilarious and worthy of a tweet. The photo is taken while his head is face down on a massage table. The tweet is neither contrived nor rehearsed. What’s funny emerges at the moment he thinks of it, and it displays a humor born of wit and intelligent observation, regardless of how silly.
Through joke and humor, Lansbury further expresses a substantive side, such as when he endearingly teases Wilshere. October 5th, Lansbury— just caught @jack_wilshere eatin chocolate ahaha fatty twitter is ledge!! Or when he spends his birthday with his family. October 13th, Lansbury— Walk in my front door and there r balloons everywhere ahaha love my family ::)
Both Lansbury and Wilshere often tweet about training sessions, the results of matches just concluded, and about fatigue, which reveals tidbits of who they are. October 8th, Lansbury— Well game tonite so I think afternoon nap is in order slow jams comin out the ipad 🙂 zzzzzzzzzzzz… October 9th, Wilshere— Tired this morning.
Wilshere is more contained than Lansbury. He’s less inclined to tweet the unedited stream of everyday life. His reportage passes through his internal editor before the mad tapping of keystrokes. Lansbury punctuates numerous tweets with “ahahaha”, announcing redundantly that he is saying something funny. Wilshere, on one occasion, replies with a “haha” to indicate that he’s found something Lansbury has said or done funny. It’s not Wilshere’s style to use “dload”, “fatty”, or “zzzzzzz”. Wilshere doesn’t even try to approximate it. He may know that he’ll fall flat or come off insincere.
Yet, Wilshere is not inhibited, but comparatively laconic—much is contained in an economy of thoughtful expression. As of writing, Wilshere follows 7 twitters to Lansbury’s 26. Wilshere tweets more directly about football. It’s the real Jack Wilshere. He thanks his fans for voting him player of the month and hopes to see them at the game. He says good morning to them. Interestingly, Lansbury instead says good night to his. When off to the senior team for the Montenegro game, Wilshere wishes the U21s the best of luck. Gutted after the Chelsea loss, he is on a high after beating Romania. October 8th, Wilshere— Buzzing with the result tonight..now of to the seniors..wishing all the lads the best of luck in Romania and get the job done!
If it isn’t one’s habit to obsessively check a twitter for the next update, then, after some time, it reads like a film script, albeit exclusively of dialog, part Bring it On, part Dinner With Andre, in this case. Generally, a script is written and later performed, but a twitter is written and performed at the same time. It’s advantage is that no one can impose the story upon the twitter, and this includes the twitter’s author to some degree. But by relinquishing control one gains a measure of freedom.
In contrast to a blog, which can carry the weight of traditionally journalistic or literary forms, a twitter is the best format for capturing the constant mingling and shifting of content and identities. It also offers dialog with distance, containing a built-in resistance to the creepy stalking and life-data mining endemic on Facebook.
The twitter, with all its advantages, can operate a layer below the surface, a perfect enclave for flickering teen life. There is a relative freedom to express their teenage selves. Non sequiter and deficits of attention cram together too much disparate content, and amid the inanity there are declarations of boredom and moments of thoughtfulness. It’s the chatter just before class starts and right after it ends as students spill into hallways and out through all the doors. You get the impression they have some control over the production of their lives.
These two twitters offer insight into the dynamic interaction between lives of the typical teen and exceptional professional footballer, the kid and the adult often forced to be exclusive from one another.
Wilshere and Lansbury’s twitters flow across normal adolescence and celebrity, across everyday and rarified life. The contrast and balance of their lives is at times surreal. October 10th, Lansbury— Sitin on the sofa in reception listen to danny welbeck play on the piano tryin to play alicia keys 😀.
Over a two week period, the two twitters, consuming about 5-10 minutes of reading time, provided more insight into their personalities than a daily’s exclusive or a ghost-written autobiography. No interview would have probed the bad bleach job for the experience of contemplating the unflatering gingered-hair photo and the insecurities from having no idea what other types of artificial and natural light could make him look foolish and uncool. October 11th, Lansbury—Hair bk to normal :p much better :).
It can’t be easy balancing the irrepressible expression of youth with the professional behavior and discretion required of the trade. Perhaps more interesting than the sketch of personality, is the routine of their lives, and how and when they get to be themselves. Although truly never off the clock, there is time less officially under the rule of Arsenal or English FA. Arséne Wenger isn’t chilling with the guys working out some overly complcated guitar riff that Pat Rice is having trouble putting lyrics to. Then again, he doesn’t need to be there.
A 12-day period of tweets represents a complete footballing cycle, which is repeated over the season. A league game on the weekend, a non-league game midweek. A hotel in Chelsea for the away game at Stamford Bridge, a hotel in Norwich with the U21s. Then it’s off to Romania or Montenegro, followed by a return to London.
The abundant, often boring stretches hanging out in hotel rooms are periods of free time —where all the fluttering and chatting takes place. They spend a lot of time in hotels, partially quarantined with a range of electronics, roaming from room to room and hanging out in tracksuits. Repeatedly inhabiting an identical mobile space across countires and cities to do whatever is not what they shouldn’t do.
The players’ daily schedule has two elastic settings—short and taut, then lax. Between tweets, the quiet traces movement into adulthood, going silent for personal relationships, matches, training sessions, and the numerous professional commitments (to media, charities, fans, ect).
Following two weeks of tweeting one can assemble clippings of the exceptional and ordinary lives of promising teen footballers. But these two twitters offer something richer. They capture the breaking into the first team. Lansbury is bobbing at the edge and Wishere is digging into the first eleven, and together both are greeting everything around them with a hello…
October 14th, Lansbury—Night twitter sleep well coz I no I will :p @jack_wilshere crack me rite up :)lol