A film about a computer game in which you manage a football club might seem like a strange concept but when said game is so integrated in the sport’s language and culture across the globe, it is more than justified. It changed the way fans talk about football and I, like many others – some featured as the talking heads of this insightful documentary – lost hours upon hours of my life to choosing tactics, wages, formations and more for a virtual squad of players. The game has a knack of pulling you in to the point that it nearly takes over everything else. ‘An Alternative Reality’ examines it in great detail, documenting its humble origins through to its current status, finding a satisfyingly healthy balance between being both fun and informative.
Fans of the game are full of anecdotes, and talk passionately about past glories and near misses. We also like to reminisce over the must-have midfield marvels such as Mark Kerr and Renato. An amusing extremist trend has emerged which involves comically suiting up for those all important cup final days. It is this aspect of the film that provides the most entertainment as from musicians such as Jon McClure and Paolo Nutini to players and coaches, everyone has their fond memories. Ex-Cardiff City manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær was an avid enthusiast back in his glorious Man United days and used to battle it out with Jordi Cruyff on their many away trips. After this film, you’ll find yourself recalling your own beloved eleven or feeling right in the mood to create new memories as soon as you get the chance.
On a more serious note, the technology and vast research behind the database is discussed at length as well as how the graphics have been improved and enhanced. These sections occasionally verge into dull territory but for die-hard stats fans there is a lot of data to get excited about. Listening to the founding brothers Paul and Oliver Collyer talk about the game alongside studio director Miles Jacobson is fascinating and it is evident that real passion for football as well as the loyal fan base has driven the game forward. Interestingly, Jacobson described the bizarre wonder-kids that never amounted to anything in real life as ‘glitches’ in the abnormally accurate engine but for super-fans, these were gems to behold. In recent times, the developers Sports Interactive have become involved with the real game, allowing clubs to take advantage of the colossal database and precise filters to discover the players with the correct attributes to slot in to vacant positions.
One of the most decorated managers in football history, Bill Shankly famously said ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that’. It is this dedication towards the ‘beautiful game’ that brings supporters together, and a very similar sense of adulation echoes throughout this funny and enlightening cult film. Whether your old favourite side used wingbacks, a playmaker, a false nine or you preferred the classic 4-4-2, prepare to dust off your disc and go back to the drawing board to become addicted all over again…