Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha came to support his team at home by helicopter. The founder of the King Power group, specializing in duty-free shops, was dropped off in the middle of the pitch, from where he also left at the end of the match.
This habit cost Vichai his life, after a 1 – 1 draw of his “Foxes” against West Ham, when his copter crashed on a parking lot reserved for the employees of the club, causing the death of five.
The emotion quickly spread through the world of football as a whole, with messages of condolence from many personalities and institutions. The warmest tributes were made by the stars of the team. “I’m struggling to find the right words … But for me, you’re a legend, an incredible man, [the one] who had the biggest heart, the soul of Leicester City,” wrote England international Jamie Vardy, supported by a message from teammate Harry Maguire greeting a “big man”, “good and loving,” who “will be missed so much by everyone”.
This Thai was loved by English football
Many Thais love English football. But this Thai was loved by English football. In recent years, more and more football clubs are being bought by foreign businessmen. But beyond the millions injected and the results achieved, many failed to win the hearts of fans like Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. He did it by offering beers to patrons on his birthday in April, freezing the price of season tickets of the stadium for years, engaging in local charity and, most importantly, writing the finest chapter of the club’s history, when Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016.
David against Goliath
In front of big teams like Manchester’s, Arsenal and Liverpool, the small club from Midlands gave the impression to play like ‘David against Goliath’. It was to make little of the financial side of its owner, fifth richest of Thailand in 2018 with its $5.2 Billion according to Forbes. But the man was as involved as discreet, as popular, finally, little known to the general public.
Long before being awarded the prestigious name of Srivaddhanaprabha by the King of Thailand in 2013, Vichai Raksriaksorn began building his empire by opening a duty free shop in central Bangkok in 1989. He entered the big league in 2006 when King Power won the concession for duty-free shops at the city’s new airport, Suvarnabhumi. This allowed this fervent Buddhist to invest in polo (he owned two clubs, in Bangkok and London) and football, through the acquisition of Leicester City, then in the English second division in 2010, and that of Leuven (Belgium) in 2017.
With his death raises the question of his succession. In terms of both business and sports, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha laid the foundation for a family dynasty. His four children, two girls and two boys all in their thirties, are part of King Power’s executive committee, while the youngest of them, Aiyawatt, nicknamed “Top”, already occupies the position of vice-president of Leicester City. But some observers believe that the network patiently constituted by the father may default to his heirs, especially when it comes to renegotiating.
Meanwhile, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha inherits an inspiring success story in the competitive world of English football. Two Thai businessmen are trying to reproduce it. Dejphon Chansiri took control of Sheffield in the Second Division Championship in 2015. Sumrith “Tiger” Thanakarnjanasuth became the owner of Oxford United in League One (third division) last February.