Under tragic circumstances, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha passed away this past weekend…leaving a legacy unlike any other in sports. His unique passion and love for Leicester inspired an incredible story, and his tragic loss has left many sports fans, including myself, in saddened disbelief.
On September 21, 2014 as a 15 year old, I fell in love with a team that would capture the world’s attention in a matter of months. Leicester City FC won an early season match 5-3 against Premier League giants Manchester United, but more importantly, they possessed a desire I envied immensely at the time as a Chelsea fan. I could never say I am a “Leicester supporter,” but that does not mean I have not been a massive fan of the club ever since. I loved the atmosphere, the player’s intensity, and notably, the thrashing of Manchester United. That same season, Leicester won six of their last eight matches to secure the greatest escape from relegation in league history. In just the next season, Leicester would accomplish one of the greatest feats in sports history, period.
Before I delve into Leicester’s impossible 2015-2016 title season, let’s go back to 2010, when the most significant man in the history of Leicester City Football Club first arrived and altered the culture of English Soccer forever. At a time in which the club was $100 million in debt and was meandering through the lower leagues of English soccer, Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha saw something no one else did. He paid off the debts, gave countless time and resources to the city, and loved his team with passion lacked by many soccer owners. In just five years, Vichai brought his club from the third division in English soccer to a competitive member of the Premier League. In his sixth year, Vichai and Leicester City completed the impossible.
For those unfamiliar with the Leicester City story or the English Premier League in general, if a club isn’t named Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, or Arsenal, they have no business contending for a title. In fact, throughout the Premier League era of English soccer, no other team has won the title. The economic disparity between the top teams and the rest of the league gives those with less virtually no chance at truly competing.
Going into the 2015-2016 Premier League Season, the bookies gave Leicester 5000-1 odds to win the league. They had just fired their coach, hired a new one that no pundit approved of, and had a team “not good enough for the Premier League.” To put it simply, Kim Kardashian for President in 2020 and an Elvis Presley appearance in 2016 were both almost five times more likely to occur than Leicester winning the league according to bookies.
Leicester began the season on fire, with many predictably doubting their ability to extend the dominant play throughout the season. After they controlled the #1 spot in the league early on, Leicester never looked back. On February 6th, 2016, Leicester dismantled a Manchester City opponent with a squad that cost 15 times their own. On May 2, 2016, after Chelsea came back to draw Tottenham, Leicester secured the Premier League title and sent the soccer world into a frenzy.
The entire season, as manager Claudio Ranieri described, was like a dream. I remember watching almost every single Leicester game that year, and at every game, the broadcast would turn to Vichai and his family enjoying their creation. His genuine love for the team and all of their supporters was always fully apparent, and his presence was crucial for the entire culture of Leicester City FC.
On October 27th, 2018, after attempting a routine helicopter ride to London from the King Power Stadium in Leicester, Vichai, his daughter, two pilots, and one unknown party tragically died when the helicopter underwent a mechanical failure shortly after takeoff and crashed outside the stadium. Many players and members of the organization either heard or saw the explosion and immediately feared the worst. Vichai didn’t just care for the Football Club in Leicester; he put his time and resources into making Leicester a better city. As Kaspar Schmeichel, Leicester’s longtime Goalkeeper put it, Vichai changed Leicester and soccer forever. If nothing else, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha taught a city and soccer culture to dream.