Paul Gascoigne has signed up to Twitter.
I'm surprised Gazza (@gazzaofficial) joined twitter! Doesn't he realise that twitter is for climbing on a bandwagon not falling off of one.— Unnamed Insider (@Unnamedinsider) October 8, 2013
You can find him here: @GazzaOfficial, blue tick and all. You can see who he follows (Piers Morgan and Robbie Savage? Really?). You can see how many followers he's picked up (a quarter of a million people in the 15 hours since he posted his first tweet, most of which was overnight).
More than anything, though, you'll be hanging on the former footballer's every word.
It was only a matter of weeks ago that we saw the Gazza documentary. It did not paint a picture of a man who is ready for the occasional insanity that being a celebrity Twitter can throw up. He is a man battling alcoholism, deeply paranoid about his interactions with the media and generally a well-intentioned bundle of addictive insecurities.
I hope that going on to Twitter works out for the 46-year-old. It has the potential to be a very good thing. Gazza has a chance to present himself as he wants to be seen, to cut through the tabloid stories and be himself.
Finally on Twitter will keep everyone up to date... Looking forward to getting to know you guys and showing you the real Gazza !!— Paul Gascoigne (@gazzaofficial) October 8, 2013
He may find Twitter a source of great comfort. Saying there is a lot of warmth and affection out there for Paul Gascoigne is cliched but no less true for having said it.
What's come across most strikingly over the years of Gazza's troubles is that he has a need to be loved. The cocktail of social media, connecting with fans who love him, and his addictive personality might be just what he needs: a non-alcoholic one.
You can see that in one of his first messages:
Can't believe all of the nice messages. Thanks so much! Love Gazza :) x http://t.co/IAveeqkfAm— Paul Gascoigne (@gazzaofficial) October 8, 2013
There's a "but" here, though—as bare and in-your-face obvious as those fake breasts on Gazza's chest when he came home from the 1990 World Cup.
Former managing director of England cricket Hugh Morris once said of professional sportsmen and Twitter: "It is like giving a machine gun to a monkey."
The comparison is colourful, but relevant.
You can be fairly sure that whatever else Gascoigne has been up to in the decade or so since his retirement from football, it was not brushing up on the finer nuances of what you can and cannot say on social media.
And yes, while he'll strip away one level of the tabloids being able to twist his words, he'll encounter another.
We live in a world where his former England teammate, Gary Lineker, has been thrust into the spotlight as Twitter's most vocal England critic on the basis of a handful of wry tweets. What will be the reaction if Gazza damns the England midfield's ball retention this week?
More concerningly, what if the man who once showed up at the stakeout of serial killer Raoul Moat hoping to calm him down with a fishing rod, chicken and a few beers—only to subsequently admit he'd never met Moat and had been confused while drinking—has an opinion on something else he'd be better off keeping to himself?
For every well-wisher, there'll be someone following Gazza and wondering whether they'll be tuning in to catch the meltdown as it happens. This has the potential to be car-crash Twitter, and there is a market for watching people self-destruct.
How else to explain the appetite to follow Charlie Sheen in 2011, right at the height of his infamy?
To use an example closer to home, how about Joey Barton?
Barton was (and is) a fascinating case. People signed up to see what trouble he would land himself in. Many found that he was brighter and more interesting than they gave him credit for.
He's said more inappropriate things than we have time to list here, and he's done a lot of journalists' work for them.
For Gazza, as for Barton, there'll be no shortage of people trying to get a rise out of him.
Before Wayne Rooney had his Twitter account largely managed for him, there was an incident where he threatened to attack a Liverpool fan. Twitter is a place where Tom Daley can be accused of letting his recently deceased father down for not winning an Olympic medal.
Gazza will be abused and will have to find a way to let it wash over him.
Once again, the world is watching. And it's up to Gazza to determine how the next chapter of the story unfolds, because he has a rare opportunity to show himself as he wishes to be seen.
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