It has been so quiet on the streets of Leicester these past two days. The chatter of people replaced by lone heads bowed in solemnity, the buzz of the streets traded in for respectful contemplation. Even the hum of our ever-present traffic has seemed somehow quieter than usual.
Our benevolent billionaire owner, two of his staff, Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, and two pilots, Eric Swaffer and Izabela Rosa Lechowicz, gone in a second. A routine spectacle that football fans alike are so used to seeing gone horribly horribly wrong. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen in Leicester.
When confirmation reached us on Sunday evening, it hit me harder than I expected. As I watched the rolling coverage of Saturday’s tragic accident on news media, I reached the same heart-breaking conclusion everyone else did – but still, the officiality of it stung beyond words.
I felt a mixture of things when I learned that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha had passed. The first was sadness. He was known throughout our county as a generous man, one who was willing to donate £2milion to Leicester’s new children hospital, £1million to medical research at the University of Leicester, and to give free doughnuts, beers, pies, scarves, t-shirts, clappers, DVDs and street parties to the Foxes’ smitten fanbase.
The club he walked in to in 2010 and the one he leaves behind as his legacy are universes apart. We now own our stadium, we are debt-free and we are among the wealthiest football clubs in the entire world.
He never did fit the archetypal mould of the sinister megalomaniac football owner. His relationship with our club was always as much about giving as it was taking, and he didn’t need the adulation of newspaper headlines to prove that.
The second emotion I felt was gratitude. A man who I had never met had given so much, to not just my community, but to myself directly. My adolescent years have been plagued with ill mental health, constant battles with anxiety and depression and everything in-between. Football has always been my escapism, as it is for thousands of us around the world. It’s a place to forget the mire of the every day and bask in a few hours of sport and community.
Vichai will never know what the spates of euphoria he has given this club over his eight-year reign has done for my health. He’ll never know that Leicester City’s remarkable fortunes have been the injection of life I needed when I was at my lowest, and he will never know how by making this journey so extraordinary that he gave me journalistic opportunities that young starters like me could only dream of. And like I said, I never even met him.
The final emotion that came through was the darkest of all though – guilt. When in 2010, Khun Vichai and his son, Top walked in to Leicester City and threw the King Power ribbons on it, they embarked on a journey of charity alongside it. Their family’s enormous generosity has given miracles to ill children, miracles to science and miracles to football fans and as illogical as it seems, I couldn’t help but feel shame that we couldn’t give him a miracle in return.
After all, he had found a home from home here; as is testament to our glorious multicultural society, Leicester has never been a place bothered about where you’re from but a place that cares about where you choose to be. It’s testament to Vichai that despite the fact he spent just a few hours in Leicester a week for less than a decade, he is as much a ‘chisit’ as I.
Because of him children here can now get the healthcare they deserve, young people can get the educational experience they crave and Leicester fans like I have got to see the greatest footballers in the world, the greatest achievement in sporting history, and ceaseless footballing fairytales without even having to leave our post code.
Even now when we talk of these very miracles, people look back at the 2015-16 Premier League triumph and romanticise how nobody saw it coming. Yet, if you check the annals of history, you’ll see a footnote that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha did. Simply, because of his fearless ambition, City are rejuvenated and ready to seize the day once more in honour of an immaculate man who once dared to dream.
Famously, he once said of Leicester City that “our spirit exists because of the love we share for each other and the energy it helps to create, both on and off the pitch. And in the years to come it will continue to be our greatest asset” – but he’s wrong. It is Khun Vichai’s spirit, love and energy that will be our greatest asset in the years to come, and god bless him for gracing us with it, here in Leicester.