Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died when his helicopter crashed outside the King Power Stadium after Saturday’s 1-1 draw against West Ham, will be forever associated with his club’s finest hour and one of the most remarkable triumphs in sporting history.
Srivaddhanaprabha’s decision to sanction Claudio Ranieri’s appointment as manage response after predecessor Nigel Pearson led the Foxes to an unexpected escape from Premier League relegation in 2014-15.
Another battle to retain top-flight status was widely expected but Ranieri’s Leicester – inspired by the Srivaddhanaprabha-bankrolled recruits Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante and Kasper Schmeichel – started impressively and kept winning.
Famous victories over the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City were landmark before Tottenham’s failure to win at Stamford Bridge on May 2, 2016 meant the Foxes’ fairytale became reality.
Leicester were Premier League champions for the first time in their history and the 5,000-1 outsiders toasted their success with a 3-1 home win over Everton – a match that was played out in a carnival atmosphere after opera star Andrea Bocelli performed on the pitch before kick-off.
Ranieri’s squad were each rewarded with their own BMW i8 sports car by Srivaddhanaprabha, whose generosity was already well-established when it came to Leicester’s fanbase.
Eschewing the tendency of some overseas owners in British football to operate at a distance from local supporters, the 60-year-old Thai habitually celebrated his birthday by laying on treats for the Foxes faithful such as free beers, hot dogs and doughnuts.
“When you know him as I did, you knew he was a very generous man with his players, his staff [and] people working for him,” Sven-Goran Eriksson – the first manager appointed by Srivaddhanaprabha after he bought Leicester for £39million from Milan Mandaric in August 2010 – told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Again, with the fans and the community. As I know him he was extremely generous, not only paying salaries. Out shopping in London, he paid for jackets and things like that [for staff]. Very, very generous generally. A generous man.”
Nevertheless, Premier League glory was an impossible dream during Eriksson’s tenure, with Leicester a Championship club who had been in League One more recently than England’s top flight.
It was not a tale of overnight success, as Srivaddhanaprabha steadily invested chunks of a fortune accrued through the success of the King Power duty-free brand he launched in 1989. A net worth of $4.9billion made him Thailand’s fifth-richest person, according to Forbes.
Promotion to the Premier League came in 2014 under Pearson, who now coaches the Srivaddhanaprabha-owned Belgian club OH Leuven.
His sporting interests also extended to polo and racing, with his horses running under the King Power Limited banner and carrying Leicester’s blue and white colours. Among his stable of two-year-olds were Fox Kasper and Fox Vardy – named after Leicester’s title-winning heroes.
Born Vichai Raksriaksorn, Srivaddhanaprabha was honoured with a new family surname by the former Thai monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2013.
The name was given as recognition of the businessman’s corporate and social responsibility programmes and means “light of progressive glory”. Leicester fans will be eternally grateful that he allowed them to bask in something similar.
Srivaddhanaprabha is survived by his wife Aimon and four children Voramas, Apichet, Aroonroong and Aiyawatt.
Apichet and Aiyawatt serve as executive director and vice-chairman at Leicester respectively, with all of the siblings holding a 10 per cent stake in the club, alongside their mother’s nine per cent.