On 27 Oct 2018, a helicopter carrying 5 passengers took off from King Power Stadium, Leicestershire. It was carrying the 60yr old Chairman of Leicester City, Mr. Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, 2 members of his staff, Nursara Suknamai, and Kaveporn Punpare, as well an additional passenger, Izabela Roza Lechowicz. The helicopter was piloted by pilot Eric Swaffer. The helicopter took off from the pitch before clearing the stands of the stadium. Smoke was seen emitting from its exhaust. Once in the air, it tried to make a turn, before spinning wildly out of control & tumbling to the ground.
And in a matter of seconds, the life of Mr.Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, 5th richest man in Thailand, Owner of the ‘Foxes’ & OH Leuven, the man who guided Leicester City to become the unlikeliest of champions in 2016, an idol for Thai’s across the world & Loving father of four came to an end.
Mr. Srivaddhanaprabha’s death sent shockwaves throughout the footballing community. Condolences poured in, from Prince William all the way to both halves of Manchester. Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester City’s Goalkeeper, son of legendary United Goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel & one of the greatest goalkeepers in the world, wrote an impassioned 2-page letter, describing himself as “totally devastated and heartbroken” and added: “Never have I ever come across a man like you. So hard working, so passionate, so kind and so generous in the extreme. You changed football. Forever! You gave hope to everyone that the impossible was possible. You literally made my dreams come true. We now have a responsibility as a club, as players and fans to honor you.” Jamie Vardy, the brilliant former England striker described this as the hardest week of his life, current & former Managers of Leicester, even those sacked by Vichai, describe him as the gentlest & kindest chairman they had ever met.
His life seems to draw a stark parallel to that of Steve Prefontaine or ‘Pre’, the legendary track runner. Both were legends in both their home countries as well as abroad. Pre was a source of inspiration for America in track & field during the 1972 Olympics held in Munich. He set national records in every race from 2,000 to 10,000 meters. Pre’s 4th place finish at the Olympics sent waves of shock & awe across the world & caused him to etch himself into the history books, permanently shaking off his underdog status. In the spring of 1975, a group of traveling Finnish athletes took part in an NCAA Prep meet at Hayward Field in Eugene. After the event on Thursday, May 29, which included a 5,000-meter race that Pre won, the Finnish and American athletes attended a party at the home of former Duck runner Geoff Hollister. Shortly after midnight, Pre left the party & was traveling on a narrow road, when his MG convertible hit a rock wall & flipped. He was pronounced dead by the time medics reached the site. Pre’s rock, as the spot of his accident, is now known, remains a virtual shrine, with runners visiting the spot after a major victory such as winning an Olympic Medal or The Pre Classic, an event held in his honor & regarded as a rite of passage for all aspiring runners in America. Pre left a great mark on the lives of all those who knew him, evident from the fact that a significant part of ‘Shoe Dog’, the memoir written by the founder of Nike, Phil Knight, is dedicated to Pre, who was the company’s 1st superstar, far before the likes of Micheal Jordan & Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mr.Srivaddhanaprabha was born in Bangkok on April 4, 1958, to a Thai Chinese family & was named Vichai Raksriaksorn. He was given a new surname by the King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2012. He rose from having a single store in Bangkok to owning King Power Duty-Free empire, which was given the royal seal of approval in 2009 & whose shops are ubiquitous in Thailand’s tourist-laden airports. Mr.Srivaddhanaprabha bought Leicester for £39million in 2010 after three years as the club’s shirt sponsor. In 2011, he became chairman and his son Aiyawatt or ‘Top’ was named vice-chairman. Five years later, the ‘Foxes’ stunned the world by winning the Premier League despite being huge outsiders. The generous Mr.Srivaddhanaprabha bought a BMW i8 – worth £105,000 – for every member of the squad as a gift. Last May, the wealthy mogul purchased Belgian outfit OH Leuven – his second club. He was a keen polo fan and also owned the VR Polo Club in Bangkok.In Thailand, where Vichai’s ownership of the Leicester club had become a source of great national pride and prompted many Thais to switch allegiances from popular clubs Manchester United and Liverpool.
The response to his death was swift & heartfelt. Members of the public traveled to the stadium to leave tributes. Players in Premier League matches wore black armbands as a mark of respect. Minute’s silences were held at Manchester United and Burnley and a minute’s applause, in tribute, took place at Crystal Palace. In Thailand, Thais on 27th Oct awoke to his death- an abrupt end to a global success story in a sometimes inward-looking country. The book of condolence opened by Leicester has already received thousands of messages. One message read” He was a man we must admire.. though his last breath is over, his reputation will be remembered forever”.
This blog, written by me, a diehard fan of the sport christened by Pele as ‘The Beautiful Game’ will show its mark of respect in what little way it can. This post & a personal message by me will be posted in the online book of condolence at http://www.lcfc.com. The website will also be in black theme for at least a week.
Today, the wreckage of the helicopter will be cleared away & the pitch prepped for the 20:30( IST) match between Cardiff & Leicester. This will be the club’s first match without Mr.Srivaddhanaprabha & as per a statement by the club, the whole club will be playing for Vichai. Opponents Cardiff City have prepared a banner in support of Mr.Srivaddhanaprabha. His body was flown back to Thailand yesterday & taken to Wat Thepsirin, a temple where usually only royal cremations occur. Not this time. The Ceremony will start from today evening & lasts until Nov 9. It will have regal touches, with an octagonal urn among the items given by the monarchy & court musicians playing drums & flutes during royally-sponsored bathing rites. Buddhist monks will recite prayers from religious texts & afterward his body will be kept for 100 days before a cremation but a date has not been set yet.
In the 1st public reaction from the family, Mr.Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha said in an Instagram post that his father had left him with a legacy to continue & that he would do everything he could to carry on his big vision & dreams.
Jamie Vardy, Kasper Schmeichel, Captain Wes Morgan along with Manager Claude Puel & other senior staff are due to fly to Thailand to pay their respects after the match.
Srivaddhanaprabha means “auspicious & prosperous light” or “light of progressive glory” in Ayutthaya. He lived by that name, spreading light that brought glory to all those who knew & loved him. It is now time, as Jamie Vardy put it, for us to honor his name & carry forward that light.