Kate Hoey expressed disappointment last night after being sacked as sports minister and replaced by Richard Caborn, a Sheffield MP who lists golf and Sheffield United FC among his main sporting interests.
"I was very disappointed," Hoey said last night, after learning she had lost her job at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the post-election re-shuffle. "I felt there was a lot more to achieve, but, having lost my father five weeks ago, I can put this disappointment in perspective."
Hoey had experienced more than her share of controversy since taking up the post in 1999, when her predecessor, Tony Banks, became the Prime Minister's special envoy to the ill-fated bid for the 2006 World Cup. One of her first public comments was to criticise Manchester United's "shabby" decision to pull out of the FA Cup to take part in the Fifa Club World Championship. They had done so after persuasion from Banks and with the backing of the government.
Hoey also made enemies of numerous senior figures within the football establishment, often because of her no-nonsense approach and because she showed a willingness to listen to the wishes of fans rather than authorities. She backed supporters in the debate about safe standing areas in Premiership football grounds, despite back-stabbing briefings from the football authorities. She also made clear that she believed football needs an independent regulator rather than being self-regulated. None of this endeared her to football's powers-that-be, who would prefer a malleable sports minister who does not make a habit of speaking their mind.
Hoey's downfall probably had its roots in the Wembley fiasco, a project she insisted was reviewed when it became clear that £120m of Lottery money was being given to a supposed multi-purpose national stadium that would, in practice, be nothing of the sort. In retrospect, with the Football Association and the Government balking at funding the project, her intervention seems reasonable. But at the time she was widely criticised.
Hoey's views about the national stadium led Ken Bates, who was in charge of the project, to say she should be "shot" for "undermining" the much-troubled project. Bates accused her of being responsible for removing athletics from the new stadium. Hoey has always maintained that she had no personal involvement at all and that Wembley was not a Government project.
Caborn will be charged with picking up the pieces of the Wembley farce. Before the election, the government appointed a committee headed by Jack Straw, but, since his move from the Home Office to become Foreign Secretary, the committee may be reconfigured.
Caborn has been the MP for Sheffield Central since 1983. He has strong links with the city, having been educated at Sheffield Polytechnic and going on to work as a fitter. He briefly held a seat on Sheffield United's board during the mid-1990s and, as Trade Minister, intervened to speed up a work permit for the Belarus international Peter Kachuro in August 1999 in time for him to play in the Blades' first game of the new season.