The OFT said that Manchester United, the world’s most successful football club, shirt-maker Umbro, the FA and seven retailers together agreed to fix the prices of top selling short-sleeved England Manchester United shirts.

"Since we launched our investigation the prices of replica football shirts have fallen and consumers can now shop around and get a better price," John Vickers, chairman of the OFT, told England’s Financial Times newspaper.

The 10 were fined a total of 18.6 million pounds. They include Allsports which was fined 1.35 million pounds, Blacks - 197,000 pounds, Sports Soccer - 123,000 pounds, JJB Sports - 73,000 pounds and Sports Connection - 20,000 pounds.

Football Association

The Football Association will pay a fine of 158,000 pounds, while JB Sports, the most heavily fined, is to fork out 8.37 million pounds for the scam.

Umbro will pay a penalty of 6.64 million pounds, and Manchester United 1.65 million pounds.

The club denied playing any role in price-fixing and is “considering its position with regard to an appeal,” the FT reported. JJB Sports has also said it plans to appeal the decision.

The OFT began its investigation into the sector in 2000 and Friday’s ruling was the culmination of the three year-long inquiry.

Shirt prices drop

The agreement had kept replica England, Manchester United, Chelsea, Glasgow Celtic and Nottingham Forest shirts at 39.99 pounds. The shirts can now be bought for less than 25 pounds.

Still, some observers have said the consumer watchdog is flexing its muscles and sending a tough message to British business. In June, the OFT was granted the power to jail executives found guilty in cartel cases.

“It is quite convenient that the first case for the OFT after it gained these new powers has been one with lots of household names,” Paula Riedel, competition partner at Linklaters, the law firm, told the FT.

“The fact that it is very high profile is a good way of spreading the message that they are getting tough a bit further,” she said.