The guilty parties have to face two key truths. Fact one: they don't play for Man Utd (and parading around labelled 'Beckham' - a guy half their age who earns more than twice their annual salary every week - isn't going to change that). Fact two: football shirts look dreadful with jeans. But fans wear their hearts on their sleeves and, shirt-makers have learned, they are prepared to pay for the privilege. Hence, Umbro reportedly shelled out £180 million for the exclusive rights to manufacture the latest England strip. World Cup fever pushed the firm's total sales up 41% to £247 million in the first half of this year. Players' names were first put on shirts in 1993. When Newcastle bought local boy Alan Shearer in 1996, the club made £250,000 in one day from replicas of the striker's number 9 shirt.
Mintel now values the UK market at more than £210 million - good news for the clubs and the makers, but not for everyone. Complaints from harassed parents have made the problem of shirt prices a consumer rights issue that flares up every couple of years and is set to arise again as kids rush to kit up for the new season. Replica shirts cost about £40 each but can quickly be rendered obsolete by a new sponsorship deal or subtle design tweak. True fans, of course, must have the latest strip. Three points to the manufacturers, then.