THE rivalry between the two biggest sportswear magnates is set to increase after Sports Direct revealed they are returning to Robin Park and opening a new store - right under the nose of Dave Whelan’s outlet.
Wigan Atheltic chairman Whelan has had a long-standing battle with Sports Direct and Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley to be the top sports retailer in the UK, particularly when the former’s JJB chain was at its peak.
Now Sports Direct are refurbishing the former Comet store at the retail park which closed in December 2012.
Sports Direct originally had a store at Robin Park in the unit which now houses Smyths Toys.
Sports Direct are also currently using part of the Torque depot at Martland Park as a distribution base - the self-same building which used to be Mr Whelan’s old JJB Sports headquarters!
It is also believed that Mr Ashley is preparing to take on the health and wellbeing industry by snapping up dozens of gyms from LA Fitness.
He has sanctioned a move to acquire the leases on approximately LA sites which were put up for sale as part of a restructuring of the troubled gym operator’s finances.
He is said to have agreed to offer a parent company guarantee to LA Fitness landlords in order to fend off interest from rivals, and a deal is understood to be imminent, although one insider said on Wednesday that it could still fall apart.
JJB went into administration in 2012, Mr Whelan having reqlinquished control of it in 2007.
Mr Whelan now is busy rebuilding his new DW Sports empire, which has a store and gym on Stadium Way, just yards away from the new Sports Direct outlet.
Sports Direct would not comment on how many jobs the new store on Robin Park will create or when it will open, but refurbishment has already begun.
The rival tycoons were also mentioned in a fraud trial earlier this year involving a former employee of both JJB and Sports Direct.
Sir David Jones, who made his name turning around the Next fashion chain, borrowed the cash from Mr Whelan at a time when Sir David was heavily in debt. The prosecution also said that he borrowed another £1.5m from Mike Ashley and he was accused of forging a bank statement to disguise the fact he had borrowed the money.
But the trial collapsed in April due to his ill health.