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‘He made us champions’: Leicester fans pay tribute to Thai owner


Leicester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Fans laid down hundreds of football scarves, shirts and flowers outside Leicester City’s stadium on Sunday, a day after a helicopter belonging to the club’s Thai billionaire owner crashed outside the grounds.

Among the tributes to Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha — the funder behind the club’s epic 2016 Premier League victory — was also an image of Ganesh, a Hindu god often seen at Thai Buddhist temples.

As emergency vehicles passed back and forth from the scene of the crash, a steady stream of people came to express their gratitude: a man on crutches, a father consoling his teenage son, a woman carrying a bouquet of blue and white flowers — the colours of the football club.

“He’s put Leicester on the map. He’s made us big, we’re not just a little club anymore,” said one supporter, 55-year-old Cathy Dann.

John Welford, 68, said: “What a fantastic man! I’ve been a supporter 60 years and personally I think he’s the best ever owner we’ve ever had”.

There was no official confirmation that the 60-year-old businessman, who frequently flies to and from Leicester’s home games by helicopter, was aboard the aircraft.

But many in the city in central England and in Vichai’s homeland already feared the worst for the man they credit with the club’s against-all-odds League title.

Many also remembered the owner’s generosity to fans — free breakfasts at away matches and free beers on his birthday — as well as to the city, including a donation to the local hospital.

“They’re sort of around like supporters, they’re like us. They believe in what the club is and they’ve bought into that,” said Mahendra Mistri, 59.

– ‘He made us champions’ –

Kanti Patel, one of the first supporters to come to pay tribute, told AFP: “It means a lot to me, he did a lot for the club.

“I can’t get over it. Since him being with the club the club has done well, and I don’t know what’s going to happen now.”

Another fan, Tom Lievers, arrived with a “Champions” scarf to pay tribute to Vichai.

“Well you know where we were when he bought the club — we were absolutely nowhere. So I brought down my ‘Champions’ scarf because he made us champions.”

Andrew Aldwinckle said: “He was more like he was a supporter, a proper supporter, rather than a money man. He was one of the crowd. As far as we’re concerned, that’s it.”

Steve Walton, who wore the club’s blue hat, said: “I think there’s a lot of Leicester fans around the world — not just in Leicester, but around the world — who I think will be devastated and he meant a lot to the fans.”

Vichai also brought Thailand greater recognition in the international sporting world, developing the Southeast Asian country’s football scene.

At a football game in central Bangkok, Leicester City fan Apichart Jitratkavee said: “He is an important person who has raised the bar of Thai football further.

“There were projects by Leicester City to select Thai teenagers to train in the club’s academy. They will have a chance to serve the nation in the future.”

Another fan, Nathavut Sirimontaporn, said Vichai has brought “benefits” to Thai football.

“I think having him as an owner of the Leicester City made people know Thailand more,” he said.

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