Mike Ashley's Sports Direct face tough conditions

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The Independent Online

Britain's biggest sporting goods retailer, Sports Direct, reported flat first-quarter sales and gross profits today and said trading conditions remained the toughest in the group's history.

The firm, 72-percent-controlled by billionaire Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, said it made sales of £336m in the 13 weeks to July 27, compared with £335m in the same period last year.

Gross profit was £150m, up from £149m.

"Since the end of July trading has remained in line with our expectations in tough market conditions," the firm, which runs the Sports World and Lillywhites chains, said in a statement ahead of its annual shareholder meeting.

Ashley has come under fire from some Newcastle fans after the resignation of local hero Kevin Keegan as manager and there has been talk of club supporters boycotting his shops.

Ashley made £929m when Sports Direct shares floated at 300 pence each in February 2007, but was widely criticised when the stock then slumped on a series of profit warnings.

Shares in Sports Direct, which owns the Slazenger, Lonsdale and Dunlop brands, have lagged the UK general retailers index by 47 per cent over the past year. They closed at 77.75 pence on Tuesday, valuing the firm at £442m.