A TOWN centre shopping centre has made a well-timed substitution – as one of the UK’s biggest sportswear retailers revealed plans to close shops and axe jobs.

JJB Sports yesterday announced it will close 72 shops with the loss of 800 jobs following a sharp drop in profits.

In Huddersfield, the Wigan-based company has now closed its stores at New Street and the Kingsgate Centre in Huddersfield, leaving only its superstore at Great Northern Retail Park still trading. However, the unit at Kingsgate has been quickly snapped up by rival sportswear retailer Sports Direct.

Kingsgate centre manager Jonathan Hardy said: “We are very pleased to have Sports Direct on board. We understood that JJB was doing quite well, but Sports Direct is doing about four times as much business as they were.”

Sports Direct already has a store at Birstall Shopping Park in Birstall. Sports World, which is part of the Sports Direct group, has an outlet at Great Northern Retail Park.

Sports Direct, which is majority-owned by Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, has more than 460 stores in the group.

It sells major brands including Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Umbro and Fila.

The changeover on the Huddersfield high street comes as retailers reported a worsening trading picture.

Latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) showed that like-for-like sales fell by 1.6% in March – the first monthly fall for nearly two years.

The BRC said clothing and footwear stores saw their worst showing for eight years in March, while consumers also cut back on big-ticket furniture and electronic goods.

Yesterday, discount retailer Ethel Austin went into administration in a sign of the tough trading climate for clothing chains.