The battle for supremacy in the Premiership is played out at all sorts of levels, nowhere more intensely, perhaps, than between rival kit manufacturers.
Umbro, which supplies Manchester United, Chelsea and Everton and England, has spent the last year fighting off growing competition from Nike, whose symbol adorns Arsenal shirts, Adidas (Newcastle and Crystal Palace) and Reebok (Liverpool, Aston Villa and Bolton).
Now they face yet another challenge for a major share of a market worth between pounds 150m and pounds 500m, according to the lowest and highest of expert estimates.
On Saturday, Blackburn Rovers announced a pounds 4m deal with the German company Uhlsport, whose first venture into the Premiership follows link-ups with Internazionale and Lazio, Gothenburg, Hamburg and Auxerre.
Roy Hodgson, who became acquainted with company president Klaus Uhl when he was Inter's coach, has helped design a new strip for Rovers, which will go on sale this summer.
The Blackburn chief executive, John Williams, said that kit sponsorship "represents one of the major opportunities for incremental income".
In fact, he understates the situation. At Manchester United, for example, merchandising turnover has risen from pounds 1.7m to more than pounds 30m in five years, outstripping gate receipts as the largest single income source.
Every rival company has a portfolio of individual supply deals also, ranging from boots to leisurewear, further enriching the wealth of top players, although these can throw up conflicts.
Tim Flowers, for instance, who already has his own contract with Uhlsport, is hoping his outstanding current form will win him a place in England's World Cup squad. But having paid a reported pounds 50m to retain its England rights, Umbro is unlikely to look kindly on seeing Uhlsport's name occupying its space.
Bruce's ambitions still in dreamland
Steve Bruce, sent out to grass with Birmingham City after his long and distinguished service with Manchester United, has not given up hope of lining up against his former colleagues in the Premiership before finally hanging up his boots.
At 37, United's former captain and defensive rock reckons he is playing as well as he has since moving to the Midlands in the summer of 1996, having overcome not only fitness problems but a period in which his relationship with the manager, Trevor Francis, appeared to be heading for stony ground.
He has made no secret of his ambition to go into management himself and local observers detected a potentially explosive rivalry between the two, especially when Birmingham were suffering poor results and questions were being asked about Francis's job security.
But that now seems to be in the past. On Saturday, Bruce, whose 20-year career has brought 13 major trophies, reached another milestone when he clocked up his 900th senior appearance and announced he has plans to be around "when this club, the last of the sleeping giants, wakes up."
That awakening, he believes, could be imminent. "I've always maintained that if we were around the play-off places come the end of January, we would be ideally placed for that big push."
You would have thought, after all those years listening to Alex Ferguson, he might have learned not to speak too soon. Birmingham lost on Saturday, surrendering a 12-match unbeaten run at Reading, where Bruce was booked and two of his team-mates sent off.
Now West Bromwich and Stockport have jumped ahead of them in the Nationwide First Division table, leaving Birmingham in ninth place and still, it seems, sound asleep.
Fact and ction from the Sunday papers
Watch out for more spending from Kenny Dalglish as he attempts to revive Newcastle's fortunes. The Sunday Mirror says he and Arsene Wenger are rivals to sign the France striker Stephane Guivarc'h. Dalglish reportedly watched the pounds 1m-rated Auxerre player in action in last week's friendly against Spain.
The Mail on Sunday reports that Dalglish is ready to splash pounds 5m on German international defender Markus Babbel, who turned down a move to Manchester United last summer but is now ready to leave Bayern Munich.
Meanwhile, the People says Newcastle are ready to tempt Liverpool to sell Robbie Fowler by offering pounds 10m and a pounds 35,000-a-week pay package for the Anfield striker.
Rumours that Ronaldo is unhappy at Internazionale and craves a return to Spain has reopened speculation that Alan Shearer could be bound for Italy in the summer. The Mirror says representatives of the Milan side attended Stevenage's FA Cup tie against Newcastle not to look at Giuliano Grazioli but to check on the England striker's well-being ahead of a possible pounds 25m offer. A deal, the paper suggests, could hinge on whether Dalglish stays at St James' Park or returns to Anfield to help out Roy Evans.
The News of the World says Manchester United have offered pounds 4.5m to Coventry for Darren Huckerby as a replacement for Karel Poborsky but the Mirror reckons discussions broke down when Coventry insisted on a pounds 6m fee.
The People reports an pounds 850,000 offer from Nottingham Forest for Leeds' transfer-listed Rod Wallace, who could move for nothing in the summer, and says Aston Villa's disgraced Savo Milosevic is likely to sign for Spain's Zaragoza.
The News of the World and People both believe Villa are in the hunt for Wolves' pounds 4m-rated defender Dean Richards, which the latter says is also a target for Arsenal, while the NoW says reports in Italy are linking Chelsea's Roberto Di Matteo with Juventus.
Surplus to requirements when Chelsea let him go in January last year, the 29-year-old Republic of Ireland defender joined Everton for pounds 850,000 as emergency cover for the injured Andy Hinchcliffe and seemed to have established himself in the latter half of last season. But just as an injury cost him his place at Chelsea, so a similar fate might be about to befall him at Goodison, even with Hinchcliffe now departed. Missing from the side since late November, Phelan will have to dislodge highly rated new signing John O'Kane to reclaim the left-back berth.
Roy Hodgson rates Johnson highly enough to tie the the 19-year-old midfielder to Ewood Park on a five-year contract. He cannot find a place in the Rovers side for him yet but that might change if a month's loan spell at First Division leaders Nottingham Forest proves successful. Forest admit they cannot afford to buy the youngster but hope he will give their promotion push a short-term boost.
"Sowwy? You think I look like who? Oh no, that's not me. I'm not a television pwesenter, not that Woss fellow. You might have seen me on the telly, though. I'm a footballer, me. Huckewby... Dawwen Huckewby, Pleased to meet you..."
Many a footballing father has seen a son follow him into the game but it is doubtful that there is one to match 80-year-old George Wilkins' extraordinary record. The former Brentford, Nottingham Forest and Bradford Park Avenue inside-forward, whose career was interrupted by World War Two, brought up not one but four boys good enough to forge professional careers.
The former England captain Ray, now 41 and managing Fulham, is the most famous. With brothers Graham, 42, Steve, 39, and 35-year-old Dean, he turned football into a family business.
Dean, a former Queen's Park Rangers and Brighton player who still turns out regularly for Bognor Regis in the Ryman League, says his father gave all four sons great encouragement as they grew up in Hayes.
"Dad might have achieved a lot more but for the war," he said. "He took part in a war-time cup final and when he served in Italy he played alongside Tom Finney for the Army team. He was actually offered a chance to join Milan, which is amazing when you consider that's where Ray went."
Like Ray, Graham and Steve are both Chelsea old boys, Graham having made 136 appearances for the London side. Coincidentally, both now work at Heathrow Airport while Dean, who spent four years playing in the Netherlands, hopes for a career in coaching.
GOOD BOYS . . .
Andy Cole 20
John Hartson 19
Kevin Gallacher 16
Dennis Bergkamp 15
Dion Dublin 15
Chris Sutton 15
Gianluca Vialli 15
. . . and BAD BOYS
THE SEASON'S RED AND YELLOW CARDS
The 1st Eleven
Big men in the box - the Premiership's highest scoring defenders in the last two seasons.
Julian Dicks (West Ham) 16 goals
Matt Elliott (Leicester) 14
Franck Leboeuf (Chelsea) 12 Stuart Pearce (Newcastle) 6
Steve Walsh (Leicester) 6
Tony Adams (Arsenal) 5
Steve Staunton (Aston Villa) 5
Gareth Southgate (A Villa) 4
David Wetherall (Leeds) 4
Colin Calderwood (Spurs) 3
Jon Newsome (Sheff Wed) 3 Chris Perry (Wimbledon) 3
PREMIERSHIP TEAM OF THE WEEK
STEVE WATSON Newcastle United
West Ham United
Coventry CityReuse content