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28th Oct 2018

Thousands pay tribute at King Power Stadium in wake of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha helicopter crash

James Dawson

“Something inside just says you have to go to the stadium and pay your respects”

Thousands of Leicester City fans laid flowers and paid respects outside the King Power Stadium on Sunday as they awaited an update on owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s condition following his helicopter crashing outside the ground on Saturday night, with the number of floral tributes continuing to grow as light turned to dark.

The club have since confirmed in a statement that Srivaddhanaprabha was among the five people who died in the crash, which occurred shortly after the helicopter took off from the middle of the pitch in the aftermath of the team’s 1-1 draw against West Ham.

Outside the ground on Sunday afternoon, Leicester fans wept as they placed tributes to the Thai billionaire, whose eight years at the helm saw the Foxes rise from mid-table in England’s second tier to playing European football after being crowned the 2015/16 Premier League champions.

Anthony Rice, 22, was one of hundreds of supporters who arrived at the ground before midday. He told JOE he was at the stadium to “show his respect” to the 61-year-old Srivaddhanaprabha. “The amount of stuff he’s done for the club is unbelievable,” he added. “The least we can do is to come down and show our respect.”

Such an outpouring of grief encapsulates what Srivaddhanaprabha meant to the club, its supporters and the local community. To fans of the East Midlands side, he more than anyone else was the man who made their dreams a reality.

Incurring losses to carry Leicester into the top echelon of English football in 2014 – after buying the club for a reported £39 million four years earlier – Srivaddhanaprabha oversaw the most successful period in the Foxes’ history. The team surpassed all expectations two seasons after their return to the Premier League when the 5000-1 outsiders lifted the trophy to secure their first ever top-flight title.

“Just over two years ago we were lifting the cup celebrating winning the Premier League and today is such a different day,” 39-year-old Emma Sharp told JOE outside the ground. “It’s such a sad day for Leicester and my heartfelt sympathies go out to everyone involved.”

The club’s owner made his fortune through the King Power duty-free chain, which opened its first store in Bangkok in 1989, before establishing a multi-billion dollar monopoly throughout Thai airports.

While rarely giving interviews to the media, Srivaddhanaprabha endeared himself to Leicester supporters through his acts of generosity, only modestly bumping ticket prices in the wake of the club’s rise to the top division and giving a total of at least £3 million towards local medical causes and hospitals.

Lee Pegg, 46, described how Srivaddhanaprabha had “brought the fans to heart” through his work in the community.

“He brought in [Claudio] Ranieri and won the league, and I don’t think we have looked back since he took over the club,” he said. “I think he’s an unbelievable bloke, genuine. He’s no obligation to, but he’s put a lot of money into the city hospitals and other local charities.”

The owner’s post-match helicopter exit from the King Power Stadium had become a ritual since his takeover in 2010.

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, who joined the club in 2012 while they were still in the Championship, is among those believed to have been close to the scene of the crash. It has been reported that Schmeichel was reduced to tears as he watched emergency services respond to the wreckage, with Jamie Vardy, Harry Maguire and James Maddison all tweeting prayer emojis in the wake of the accident as they awaited updates.

Throughout Sunday, these fears over the owner’s condition united players and fans alike. Lifelong Leicester fan Dean O’Shea, 49, told JOE he had travelled to the King Power Stadium because “something inside just says you have to go to the stadium and pay your respects” for a chairman who had “embraced the city”.

“He’s done everything [for this city] and for his own country – uniting the two,” said O’Shea. “Two and a half years ago we were having a party here at the height of our footballing careers – and two and half years later we’re waiting on what we hope isn’t tragic news.”

But sadly, a statement released by Leicester on Sunday evening, confirmed what an entire city had wished would not be true.