Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha: Leicester City owner’s legacy is a lesson for every football club
- Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha gave millions to local charities
- Not many football club chairmen can say they are genuinely loved by fans
Not speaking ill of the dead only accounts for so much of the eulogising of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha this week. He was genuinely loved at Leicester City, and in the city itself. How many other football club chairmen can say the same?
It’s been a week since the helicopter crash at the King Power Stadium that killed Leicester’s Thai billionaire owner, two members of staff and two pilots.
The football world has seen an outpouring of emotion over their deaths and in the case of Vichai it has been nothing but praise for his time at the helm.
It took him four years to deliver on his promise of getting the Foxes back to the Premier League from the Championship, where they were languishing when the consortium he led bought the club in 2010. Two years later Leicester were the champions of England for the first time.
That barely believable rise to the top is even more remarkable given they did it with an £80 million (US$10.2 million) wage bill – lower than 14 other clubs in the Premier League that season.
N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez, Leicester’s best two players, have now been sold for huge profits to Chelsea and Manchester City, the two teams that have since won the title.
That fairy tale triumph massively overdelivered on Vichai’s promise to break into the Premier League top five and bring European football to the King Power Stadium.
The Champions League came to town and the Leicester reached the quarter-finals in their debut campaign among the continental elite.
But it wasn’t just on the pitch that Vichai endeared himself to Foxes fans.
Not many football supporters have seen their team win the league but far fewer have also seen Andrea Bocelli sing Nessun Dorma to celebrate it.
That’s what happened at Leicester City. Sixty randomly-chosen fans also celebrated Vichai’s 60th birthday last year with a free season ticket renewal.
The rest of the 32,000 crowd, at least those over the age of 18, had to make do with a free pint of beer, just as they had done for his previous two birthdays.
Small gestures like that mean a lot to fans, especially in the context of modern football.
The money in the game has meant that profits are prioritised over performance, and most Premier League clubs are in a position to give away their tickets for every game and still make money. This has coincided with changes in ownership that have proved contentious, such as the oft-protested Glazer family at Manchester United.
In many ways, Vichai was a charming throwback. While he might not have been local to Leicester, his stewardship was closer than most to the days when clubs were run by a benevolent business magnate from the area.
“Khun Vichai”, as he was affectionately known at the club, put in over £100 million of his own money and cleared the clubs debts in the process. But beyond that, he made sure that everyone connected with the club felt like they mattered.
Family is the word that many of Leicester’s players have used in their own tributes to their chairman. That inclusivity extended beyond those on the pitch and in the stands at the King Power Stadium. Vichai donated millions of pounds to local hospitals and thousands more to a Leicester City fan who was looking for donations to fund research into his son’s rare genetic disorder.
Leicester-born Emile Heskey, who played for the club during their previous high point under Martin O’Neill’s management in the 1990s, spoke of how much Vichai was loved in the city because of these gestures. The love and respect from fans of other clubs has been seen with the tributes laid at the ground.
Fans are sceptical of foreign owners but Vichai taught every owner, overseas and domestic, how it can be done.
The number of clubs up and down the English leagues, and in every other league for that matter, that would benefit from taking his approach is almost endless.
Ask the fans of Newcastle United, Charlton Athletic or Blackpool.
Vichai’s son “Top” has promised to continue to deliver his father’s vision. That’s a reason, even in these darkest of days for Leicester fans, to see a bright future.
It might not contain another fairy tale Premier League win but the owners, the players and fans will be in it together at a club that is enviably united.