Woman's inside knowledge of blokeish world

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The Independent Online
A somewhat bemused Kate Hoey was surveying the fall-out from her speech yesterday: some backbiting among male MPs who have tasted the benefits of the directors' box; rather more closing of the ranks in the football establishment; and the apparent widespread novelty value of a female football enthusiast.

"I've been saying these sorts of things for ages," she said. "Nobody wanted to listen." The fact is that of the MPs who could have delivered last night's Commons indictment of the ills and scams of the game, the sport-mad Ms Hoey is possibly the best qualified.

Her favourite team, Arsenal, may be renowned for its "boring" game, marbled hospitality suite and personal problems among its players. But the determined Ms Hoey has ground-floor insight, working for the club and for Spurs, Chelsea, Queen's Park Rangers and Brentford over seven years before winning the 1989 Vauxhall by-election.

She is resigned to the fact that the blokeishness of football spawns a patronising attitude to female enthusiasts. But she has adored football since she was a little girl and attended matches with her father, a Co Antrim farmer.

A trained PE teacher and coach, she was the Northern Ireland high-jump champion in 1965 before arriving in London to take an economics degree. Aged 47, she has a long-standing relationship with Tom Stoddard, twice Photographer of the Year. Her last matchas a amateur player was against political journalists in Blackpool before last autumn's Labour party conference. She scored from the penalty spot.

She is concerned about the unheard majority of ordinary people, working hard in football, who are appalled by the bung and backhander culture. "There is a conspiracy of silence hanging over the game," she said. "They are not quite sure what is happening in this cosy world."

She believes sport should be a central feature of British culture and can often be seen track-suited in her working-class, racially diverse constituency of Vauxhall, south London. She secured selection despite a campaign for a "black-sections" black candidate from the local hard-left. She was recently reselected for the next election, unanimously.