A Tribute to Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha
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On Sunday night, Leicester City owner and chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was confirmed as one of five people to have tragically lost their lives in Saturday’s helicopter crash. The incident, which occurred approximately an hour after Leicester’s draw with West Ham, took place on the site of a miracle which he engineered. Without his support and influence, Leicester’s title-winning campaign would have been nothing more than a dream. But to the city and people of Leicester, Vichai meant so much more. The thoughts of everybody at Last Word on Football are with the families of all involved.

A Tribute to Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha

Who Was Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha?

Born Vichai Raksriaksorn in 1958, Vichai’s rise to wealth came relatively late, through duty-free stores. He opened his first duty free shop in 1989 and won the rights to exclusivity in Thailand’s biggest airport in 2006. This led to the booming success of his company, King Power, increasing Vichai’s worth to an estimated $4.9 billion.

In 2012, Thailand’s King Bhumibol granted Vichai with the honour of a new surname, ‘Srivaddhanaprabha’. The name, meaning “light of progressive glory”, was given in recognition of his commitment to charity work and contribution to the good of the country. The noble honour was a sign of the King’s respect for Vichai.

Vichai was also close to the British monarchy. He was a member and President from 2008-2012 of the Ham Polo Club, frequented by the British Royal family. A passionate polo player, Srivaddhanaprabha founded the Thai Polo Association in 1998.

Involvement with Leicester

The King Power group, led by Vichai, took over Leicester City in 2010. They immediately cleared the club’s significant debts, worth in excess of £100 million. He provided investment into the playing squad and was rewarded when, in 2014, a year after play-off heartache, Nigel Pearson guided the side to the Championship title.

After promotion, Srivaddhanaprabha unveiled his ambitious plans; for the club to achieve a top-five finish within five seasons. Many laughed at his claims, particularly after the club’s difficult first season back in the Premier League. With the club bottom at Christmas, Vichai remained loyal to the managerial team. This decision proved wise, as a strong end to the season saw relegation avoided and Leicester’s ‘great escape’ achieved.

The next season saw one of sports’ greatest underdog miracles occur. The appointment of Claudio Ranieri as first team manager and shrewd investments saw the 5000-1 title outsiders win the Premier League by a convincing ten points. Leicester became only the sixth team to win the Premier League since its inception, capturing the nation’s hearts.

Vichai’s input was integral to the miracle season. It gave Leicester fans, players and staff the best year of their lives whilst bringing together a city and community. It allowed football fans around the country a renewed hope in what could be accomplished, regardless of who they supported. Without his involvement, Leicester City would, most likely, still be a middling Championship side. Yet, because of his decision to invest, the impossible happened and he leaves the club in a position to compete for the next decade.

Off the Pitch

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha bucks the trend of the typical football owner. Unlike most, he was beloved by his fans, regardless of on the pitch results. It was telling that, when the club made the difficult decision to part ways with Claudio Ranieri, criticism came from outside of the clubs support only; Leicester fans had learned to trust Vichai completely.

One of the reasons for his beloved status was his generosity; small gestures such as free beer and cake for fans attending matches on milestones, such as his recent 60th birthday. He also invested in improving fans’ game-day experience, with a new fan megastore and big screens at the ground. Away game tickets are often subsidised by the club, and travelling supporters often find free gifts awaiting them upon arrival. Furthermore, he flew Buddhist monks from Thailand to bless the King Power Stadium pitch and once funded 30,000 Jamie Vardy masks when the striker missed a game through suspension. At the heart of every decision Vichai made was the supporter, a rare exception in a money orientated environment.

His importance within the wider community cannot be underestimated, either. Srivaddhanaprabha regularly donated millions of pounds to Leicester’s hospitals and also donated to Leicester University’s medical department. He even donated £100,000 towards the reburial of Richard the III.

It is for these reasons that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was a Leicester City hero. It is rare for a foreign owner to embrace themselves so passionately into their local community. Without him, the impossible miracle that was the 2015/16 season would never have occurred, yet he gave the city so much more than that season. He has left a lasting mark on both the football club and the city, and his legacy will long live on. The people of Leicester will never forget Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

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