Content Warning: references to a tragic accident and death.
27 October 2018 was a dark day for English football. At approximately half-past eight on Saturday evening, after Leicester City’s 1-1 draw with West Ham United, the private helicopter of Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanprabha crashed outside Leicester’s King Power Stadium.
Police and ambulance crews were quick onto the scene, but unfortunately, Leicestershire police announced the next day that there were no survivors amongst the four passengers and one crew member on board, including Mr Sviraddhanaprabha.
The helicopter was known for its journeys to and from the stadium for every home match and was a familiar sight around the ground. The impact of the tragedy has not just reverberated around the football club, but the city of Leicester and the international footballing community.
A large memorial was quickly opened outside the stadium after the news broke. Residents of Leicester filled the memorial with flowers, shirts and scarves; players and family members made tributes and laid wreaths.
Craig Shakespeare, Nigel Pearson and Claudio Ranieri, all former managers under Vichai, travelled to pay their respects. The Tuesday match against Southampton was postponed, as was the match between Leicester’s partner club, Oud-Heverlee Leuven, and Lommel SK.
In the wider football community, the reaction was immense. Clubs from Manchester United to Torquay United, to Chapecoense and other clubs around the world paid their respects in solidarity with Leicester. A minute’s silence was held around England in both the mid-week EFL cup matches and this weekend’s Premier League fixtures. Teams elected to wear black armbands or created flags and banners to display at their own stadiums.
The reaction has not been unwarranted. In the climate of modern football, where owners and fans are all too often at odds, and fans feel alienated by high prices or lack of investment, Vichai was the exception. Any Leicester fan would have the exact same sentiments about the man two weeks ago as they do now, after his untimely death.
He bought Leicester City in August 2010, with the club in the second division. He immediately wrote off the clubs £100m of debt, bought back the stadium, and continued with years of investment into the club. This famously led them to one of football’s great fairy tales, as Leicester defied 5000-1 odds to win the Premier League in the 2015/16 season. This was followed up with a similarly improbable Champion’s League Quarter Final appearance the season after.
Off the pitch, fans were regularly given free drinks or doughnuts at stadiums, and season tickets were given away at matches. This generosity extended into the city of Leicester. In 2017, £1 million was donated to the Foxes foundation, a charity which aids local hospitals. This followed a £2 million donation to help open Leicester Children’s Hospital in 2016. When Jose Ragoobeer lost his two sons and wife in a fire, Vichai offered out the club’s executive hall for the funeral. The man had endeared himself to an entire city in a way that very few can.
In the footballing world, he will be known as the man behind Leicester’s impossible rise. Many have said that he made dreams come true for Leicester fans, but the truth is their achievements under Vichai’s ownership was beyond the dreams of any Leicester fan, especially in the climate of modern football wherein only the mega-rich can aim for Premier League title. He allowed fans of football’s ‘also-rans’ everywhere to begin dreaming again.
Vichai’s son, and Vice-Chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha has vowed to carry on his father’s legacy and vision, and the club’s first game reflected this, as the Foxes came away from an emotional game against Cardiff City as 1-0 victors.
This tragedy has revealed the paradox of football. The game means so much to so many. The last few years has given Leicester fans some of the greatest moments of their lives, and this has been reflected in their mourning. But this sport, so significant to so many, very quickly became irrelevant.
There had been much disagreement amongst Leicester fans in recent weeks about the tactics of the team, and whether manager Claude Puel is the right man for the job or not. There was none of that this week.
Vichai’s legacy will long outlive him, and 27 October will always be a salient date in the eyes of many of the Leicester faithful, after the tragedy which claimed five lives.
Image Credit: RonnyK via Pixabay