Book Review: Football and How to Watch It
The second in my series of “reviews of really old books.” The first was for Walter Camp’s American Football, an even older work. In some ways, Camp’s book is sort of the ur-text from which most all subsequent books about football have sprung. That probably includes Percy D. Haughton’s Football and How to Watch It. First published in 1922, it is now out of copyright and freely available online, including from Google Books, where I acquired the PDF copy I read.
Though Yale man Camp probably inspired former Harvard coach Haughton’s work, the two books are different. As I noted in my review, a great deal of Camp’s book is directed towards football player and coach, devoted to technique advice and such. Haughton’s aim is explicitly not this, but rather to provide a guide for the spectator not fully acquainted with the complexities of the modern game. The best modern equivalent I can think of is Pat Kirwan’s Take Your Eye Off the Ball, which is advice Haughton in fact gives in his book. Thankfully, I’m not sure Haughton’s book contains as many dubious to incorrect statements as Kirwan’s book, but given the age of the subject matter, I wouldn’t spot the inaccuracies as easily.
Haughton’s most prominent characteristic as an author is his arrogance, which tends to be somewhere between enjoyably and over-the-top arrogant. Former players, obnoxious know-it-all fans, and other perceived ignoramuses are castigated for their ignorance of the both the subtleties and the broader points of the then-modern game, and for the expectations they placed on amateur athletes. (The nascent NFL draws nary a mention in Haughton’s tome, nor would I have expected it to.) Haughton is the man who knows all, sees all, and does all.
The book is also visibly a product of what I think of as the pre-ironic age, where melodrama in description was a perfectly acceptable and even preferred element of style. Toward the end of the book, Haughton gives a description of how a mock game might proceed that was at times difficult for me to read without several ironic chuckles induced by the throwback style.
As you might expect from a book now nine decades old, the quantity of new information to me in How to Watch was minimal, and such as there was was concerned with vagaries of the game that was a century ago. Despite my lack of affection for Kirwan’s book, if I had to choose between this and that to recommend to a novice football fan, my choice unhesitatingly would be Kirwan. Haughton’s work, while at times enjoyable, is of much more interest as a historical curiosity than an evergreen work of football analysis.