In a significant U-turn, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has agreed to hold a joint oral hearing as part of its high-profile inquiry into football shirt price-rigging
The hearing could bring together the top brass from Umbro, JJB Sports, Manchester United FC and the Football Association (FA).
The decision to allow the parties to have a joint hearing is almost unprecedented and could create major logistical difficulties as the regulator struggles to accommodate the management of 10 companies, plus their legal teams and witnesses, in one venue.
One party close to the investigation said: "This really will be a Wembley Stadium affair." Sources at the OFT say that, although the regulator will be able to question all the parties, the companies will not be allowed to cross-examine each other's witnesses.
However, the parties will receive advance, non-confidential details of each other's defences. The hearing is scheduled for the first week of March.
Last November the OFT issued a notice stating that it intended to find the 10 companies guilty of price-rigging. It is understood that the regulator initially resisted calls for a joint hearing because it believed that the football shirt case was highly unusual.
However, some of the companies involved put major pressure on the OFT, insisting that a refusal to grant a joint hearing would breach the Human Rights Act.