In the four-week holiday season through Dec. 26, sales at JJB Sports rose by 5 percent on a like-for-like basis, as compared to the same period a year earlier, and its cash gross margin grew by 6 percent. However, analysts have warned against too much optimism, noting that the comparable period the year before was very soft, down by 15.7 percent because of bad weather and issues with stock availability. Sales for the full year will probably be significantly worse than the holiday season's figure.

In fact, sales for the 21 weeks ended Dec. 26 were down by 7.8 percent, though this was an improvement over the 17.7 percent drop seen in the previous six months. The gross margin for the 21 weeks was off by 3.2 percent.

JJB is bracing itself for continued difficulties with higher unemployment in the U.K. and a credit squeeze on consumers. It is looking to January sales, the Euro football championship and the London Olympics to help it through the year.