As I left the King Power Stadium after my side’s 1-1 draw with West Ham United on Saturday evening, I was somewhat disappointed with the scoreline. Yet, unbeknown to me, what was to happen a mere few hours after the final whistle would be the darkest day in our club’s history and a moment which has forced fans and the community alike to say goodbye to a man who made their dreams a reality and a man whose legacy will be remembered forever.
When Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha became Leicester City chairman in 2011, the future of the club was uncertain. The Foxes were sitting in millions of debt which many clubs would struggle to recover from, yet despite this Vichai paid off the remainder of the clubs £103m debt straight away – leaving them debt free.
Looking back on this now, it is no shock that the debt was cleared and this action just highlights the kind of man Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was. Many may be surprised to know that his surname of Srivaddhanaprabha, meaning ‘light of progressive glory’ in Thai, had been bestowed on him by King Bhumibol, the former monarch of Thailand, in recognition of his social responsibility and corporate programs.
Srivaddhanaprabha’s investment in Leicester was not just a financial one but an emotional one too. He was a beloved figure amongst the Leicester City fan base; his engagement with the supporters was second to none and this was shown in free donuts and beer on his birthday and free travel to away games. Not only this, but his generosity to the city of Leicester was mesmerising, this support towards the wider community included two separate instalments of £1m to the Leicester Royal Infirmary as well as a £1m donation to the University. Vichai went well above his pay grade to give back to the city which he clearly loved and thought of as his own.
Devastated Foxes fans have been gathering since Saturday evening to pay tribute at the clubs ground, where thousands of bouquets and scarves have been left. On Tuesday, the club opened a specially erected marquee with a book of condolence for fans and the community; hundreds of fans have been waiting patiently to personally thank their chairman who delivered such happiness to the club and to show the Srivaddhanaprabha family just how much he meant to them and their city. When I visited the ground myself on Tuesday I was met with a sombre atmosphere but a feeling of togetherness in a city which will be united at the passing of their beloved chairman.
The love everybody involved in Leicester has for not just Vichai but the Srivaddhanaprabha family is clear and the tributes have been flooding in since his passing. Club players have reached out on social media to fittingly remember ‘The Boss’ with Leicester goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel, stating Vichai ‘changed football’ and gave hope to everyone that ‘the impossible was possible’. To me, there is no better sentence which described Vichai better than that; to him the impossible was nothing and the moment which defined this better than anything was the moment Leicester City lifted the 2015/16 Premier League trophy, a moment which epitomises the pinnacle for any football fan.
He was not like every other owner, many are heavily criticised for their absence at games, their distant nature and their unpassionate approach to the club. Vichai was different, he was not only a regular at almost every home game but he was connected to the supporters in a unique way that is not seen in today’s game. Ex-Leicester City manager, Nigel Pearson, who led the Foxes in the great escape, claimed Vichai had an ‘immeasurable impact on English football’ and it was the fact the club’s colours were the same as his companies and that buying a Premier League club ‘wouldn’t be challenging enough’ that Srivaddhanaprabha bought the club. He believed within three to five years of their promotion to the Premier League that the club would witness European football, and although many would have called him absurd, with even myself as a fan thinking this was an extremely ambitious and optimistic aim, it happened. Vichai made his and the fan’s dream a reality, and it was only five years from his takeover that Leicester were playing against Europe’s elite under the lights at the King Power – a staggering change of fortunes for a club who only seven years previous were playing in England’s third tier.
As a young boy, my father took me to my first game at the then Filbert Street and never did I imagine that we would be contesting in Europe’s elite competition. The relegation to League One I will never forget and the promotion play off defeat to Watford was an extremely upsetting day; however, when the club managed the great escape it was a moment which I felt extremely proud to follow this club. Only a year later this proudness turned into jubilation and many Leicester fans will not be able to put it into words how thankful we are for Vichai’s presence and guidance.
It has to be remembered that the club defied odds of 5000-1 under his leadership to win the Premier League and after winning the league, Vichai presented each played with a £100,000 BMW sport car. His closeness to the team was displayed on numerous occasions throughout his spell as chairman of Leicester City and it even went as far as flying out to Russia to watch members of his team play in this summer’s World Cup. Leicester midfielder Wilfred Ndidi thanked Srivaddhanaprabha for coming out to watch him in World Cup action for Nigeria in his tribute to ‘the Boss’ just days ago.
Leicester City released a statement on Sunday evening confirming the dreaded news concerning the helicopter crash and stated ‘it is with the deepest regret and a collective broken heart that we confirm our chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was among those to have tragically lost their lives on Saturday evening…In Khun Vichai the world has lost a great man. A man of kindness, of generosity and a man whose life was defined by the love he devoted to his family and those he so successful led. Leicester City was a family under his leadership. It is as a family that we will grieve his passing and maintain the pursuit of a vision for the club that is now his legacy.’
To myself and many fans at Leicester, Vichai was the perfect owner and a man who will be sorrowly missed.
Thank you for the memories Vichai, may you rest in peace.