Leicester City are to pay an emotional tribute to late owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha on Saturday as the club play at their King Power Stadium for the first time since his death in a helicopter crash.
The charismatic Thai had become a beloved figure in the club and the city — a feat rarely achieved by Premier League clubs’ often distant billionaire owners.
Under Vichai’s ownership Leicester produced one of the biggest upsets in English football history by winning the 2015/16 Premier League, having started the season as 5,000-1 outsiders for the title.
To echo those odds, around 5,000 fans are expected to walk from the city centre to the stadium before the Premier League match against Burnley.
On Friday, the club announced plans to erect a statue of Vichai at the stadium.
His son Aiyawatt, the club’s vice-chairman, wrote in Saturday’s match programme: “We will never be able to repay what he did for us — for me as his son, us as his family, everyone connected to Leicester City and beyond — but we are committed to honouring his memory and upholding his legacy.”
Vichai was among five people killed when the helicopter plunged to the ground in a car park just outside the stadium following Leicester’s match against West Ham on October 27.
The team, currently 10th in the Premier League, returned to action last weekend, beating Cardiff 1-0 away, but on Saturday a capacity home crowd will have a chance to show their appreciation for the man who transformed their club.
A special “Tribute to Khun Vichai” video will be shown on big screens before kick-off and a two-minute silence will be held. Fans will receive commemorative scarves and souvenir matchday programmes in honour of the club’s late chairman.
The players will wear tribute T-shirts during their warm-up and in the first half the team will don shirts embroidered with Vichai’s name.
The second-half shirts will bear the poppy symbol in honour of those who have given their lives in war, with the match selected as the club’s annual remembrance fixture, 100 years after the end of World War I.
– Acts of generosity –
A number of players, including Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel, and manager Claude Puel travelled to Thailand to attend Vichai’s funeral.
Schmeichel has been especially affected, having watched the helicopter take off from the pitch before it appeared to go into a fateful spin.
“I was on the pitch and I waved him off,” said Schmeichel.
“I saw it all happen. It is something that will stay with me, unfortunately.”
Mourners have turned Leicester’s stadium into a shrine to Vichai over the last two weeks, carpeting the ground with floral tributes and messages of thanks.
Stories have emerged of Vichai’s acts of generosity to the club’s supporters and players and sizeable donations he made to local hospitals.
Puel said he expected an emotional afternoon.
“We know our fans, they are fantastic… there were 3,000 of them at our last game in Cardiff, it was a fantastic reunion with the fans,” Puel said.
“After the game, there was a lot of emotion that we shared with them and we can imagine what it will be like at home with 30,000 people in the stadium.”
He admitted getting the players ready for the game against struggling Burnley had been tough.
“It’s not easy to prepare this game, but the togetherness between us all, it’s a good feeling, a good energy, a fantastic strength,” he said.
“Our strength, spirit and positive attitude, as well as the support of our fans, will be very important.
“In the last game, we found the right balance between emotion and concentration, and focus on our game.”