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Monday, 29 January, 2001, 17:49 GMT
Excuses, excuses
Man United lose 3-1 to Southampton at The Dell in 1996
Ferguson blamed this grey kit for defeat in 1996
Sir Alex Ferguson blamed Manchester United's FA Cup upset by West Ham on everything from the lack of a penalty award and poor defending to a poor quality pitch and insufficient injury time.

BBC Sport Online's Claire Stocks examines sport's growing tendency to pass the buck.

On the face of it, no sport would appear to have a greater capacity for fanciful excuses for defeat than cricket.

Bad toss, bad light, bad bounce, bad umpiring, bad pitch, bad luck; all these have been trotted out by England captains down the years.

When England slumped to two runs for four wickets on their way to their lowest ever Test score in Johannesburg in 1999, the debacle was, apparently, caused not by the snorting rampages of messrs Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock but something far deadlier.

Low cloud.

England's 122 all out was the lowest score ever at the Wanderers ground
England's 122 all out was the lowest score ever at the Wanderers ground

Perhaps it is precisely because cricketers have so many potential excuses at their disposal that it is to other sports we must turn to find the real art of straw-clutching.

Rugby, with its oval ball and obscure rules would seem to provide its coaches with more powerful weaponry when it comes to protecting one's neck.

All Blacks coach John Hart had to bear the ire of a grief-stricken nation when New Zealand threw away a 24-10 lead against France to miss out on a place in the 1999 Rugby World Cup Final in one of the most memorable international rugby games ever.

But he refused to countenance excuses and blamed only himself and his players' mistakes.

Given the technical demands and powers of concentration required by professional golf, where a small ball is at the mercy of poor lies, bunker placement and swirling winds, one might expect more whingeing.

Europe lost the Ryder Cup to the United States in 1999 amid some very nasty tactics from a hostile Brookline crowd.

New Zealand skipper Taine Randell
Black day: New Zealand had no excuses for 1999 defeat to France
But even when the US team danced a jig on the 17th green, stamping on the putting line of Jose Maria Olazabal, there was never any real attempt to blame defeat on anything more than an outstanding comeback by Ben Crenshaw's men, though the bitterness continues.

Tennis has traditionally been a gentle sport filled with good grace and sportsmanship.

But the skill of losing badly is becoming more important, particularly in the women's game where the Williams sisters are perfecting the art.

The trick is never to acknowledge any kind of talent whatsoever from one's opponent.

Venus blamed food poisoning for her semi-final loss to Martina Hingis at the Australian Open. Graciousness in defeat? Never.

One would almost think she had been receiving lessons from the master vintner of sour grapes himself, Alex Ferguson.

The US celebrate victory over Europe in the Ryder Cup in 1999
From bad winners....
He suggested in 1996 that Manchester United's defeat against Southampton at the Dell was not in fact due to the Saints' skill and endeavor - but in fact his team's new grey strip.

It apparently left his players unable to pick out their team-mates and was not just the excuse of that season but possibly also the entire century

No other sport comes close to inspiring the litany of whinges and sorry excuses as football.

Perhaps it is because in a game which is essentially so simple there are so few hiding places for the losers.

Not that it doesn't stop them from trying.

Here's Millwall manager Keith Stevens:

"Of the 10 sendings-off, nine have been different players, so it proves we're unlucky."

Venus Williams blamed Australian Open defeat on food poisoning bad losers
Crucial to this, is the manager's ability to see something invisible to virtually everyone else - a handball, a trip in the box, an offside mistake.

Huddersfield Town manager Malcolm McDonald after a game against Manchester City:

"Before City scored we could have been 3-0 up. We were playing so well I turned to my physio and said 'I think I'll have a cigar - if we keep this up we'll get double figures'."

Huddersfield lost 10-1.

Holland manager Frank Rijkaard blamed his team's poor showing in the early stages of Euro 2000 on the fact his men had been playing too many hands of cards.

Several goalkeepers embarrassed at their blunders between the posts also blamed the weight of the balls.

But as one of the most successful managers in British football history, maybe Ferguson's tactics are more than just the ramblings of a sour Scot sore at losing?

The referee, the groundsman, the shirt designer, the linesman have all attracted his fury - and deflected attention from his star players.

Man United lost 3-1 to Southampton at The Dell in 1996
Grey day: Roy Keane wears the famous grey strip

It is rare for Ferguson to round on his squad - a desperate tactic often employed by struggling managers.

His approach is somewhat different to another Old Trafford manager, former boss Tommy Docherty.

"He can't run, can't tackle and can't head a ball. The only time he goes forward is to toss the coin," was how he described future England star Ray Wilkins.

Docherty may have employed different forms of mind games - but Ferguson understands the need for bluster.

As Docherty said back in 1979: "Lots of times managers have to be cheats and conmen. We are the biggest hypocrites. We cheat.

"The only way to survive is by cheating."

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