Even in the lopsided world of ‘the big six’ and ‘super clubs’ — and not to mention the growing rumours of the formation of a European Super League — it was the minnows of Leicester City (relegation candidates the year before) who won the Premier League title in 2016. Not only did the club dare to dream, but, famously, the world dreamed with them. While Leicester’s implausible league title might remain the greatest story in all of sport, the legacy of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha extends much further.
A game for catharsis
Saturday’s 3pm game away to Cardiff was frankly of little real on-pitch consequence for the club. It was about catharsis, and getting a game out of the way given the horrendous news last weekend that their Thai chairman was on board a helicopter that crashed outside the King Power Stadium. Their home game against Burnley next weekend will be a more poignant occasion, to celebrate and honour the man who transformed the club’s fortunes and won the hearts and minds of the city he adopted as his second home.
A 1-0 victory away at Cardiff would have slipped under the radar in any other context but it clearly mattered a great deal to all the players, all the fans and, appropriately, the entire club.
It will likely be even harder to focus on the football next weekend. There’s no avoiding the fact that it will be an emotionally charged day, but they must try. As with any bereavement, the club must heal, regroup and carry on. Whether it will be any more or less poetic by falling on Remembrance Weekend is hard to say.
Continuing Vichai’s legacy
Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt, has vowed to continue his father’s legacy at the club. It seems unlikely that he might supercede the feat of winning a league title, but that is not the intention. Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha didn’t go into ownership of Leicester City with the end goal of a title win; it was a combination of timing, luck, shrewd business moves and more. Some even believed divine intervention was at play.
Aiyawatt will hope people remember him as fondly for the person he is as they do his father. That has perhaps been the most notable element of the outpouring of grief this week: Leicester’s imagination-capturing on-field title win has been given some coverage, but not all of it. There has been wider praise for a man who invested in a club and a city, who fell in love with its people who, in turn, fell in love with him. The title win, after all, was a one-off, not a fluke but a bucking of the trend for one magical year. What is permanent is the effect the chairman had on a human level.
Vichai’s investment went well beyond the club
While most outsiders may remember him almost exclusively for that league title, those on the inside, the club’s fans, the people on the street, remember investment in the city and his sense of community; the charitable donations, the generosity and his belief that the people that supported the club were its real owners.
He knew that they would far outlive his tenure as chairman, so he wanted to leave more than just a football club behind. He succeeded.
In the parallel world of Mike Ashley and the Glazers (a name, perhaps, for the world’s most hated indy band), Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was the East Midlands’ ultimate local hero.