Why we cry for fantastic Foxes: Neil Humphreys

Why we cry for fantastic Foxes: Neil Humphreys
In this file photo taken on May 18, 2016 Leicester City FC's owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha applauds as they take part in a presentation of the English Premier League football trophy at the King Power duty-free headquarters in Bangkok on May 18, 2016.
PHOTO: AFP

Leicester City made me cry twice.

I wasn't alone the first time. I was one of millions watching Andrea Bocelli soundtrack the finest moment in English Premier League history.

The Foxes' title triumph in 2016 was our triumph, the followers of smaller clubs and those who had never succumbed to the alluring tractor beam of Old Trafford, Anfield and the other silverware-hoarding fortresses.

And Claudio Ranieri, Leicester's manager then, knew how to record the moment for posterity. For once, football chants were not enough. The Foxes had gone beyond capturing hearts and minds. They had reached out and grabbed the soul.

So the Italian brought in the only voice capable of reaching that higher, emotional plane. Bocelli sang Nessun Dorma. And as the spine-tingling aria reached its soaring peak, Bocelli took off his jacket to reveal a Leicester jersey.

And we all lost it.​​

The King Power Stadium erupted. Ranieri gave up trying to hold back his tears. So did I. So did the watching world.

Despite covering World Cup and Euro finals, this was the only moment when football truly broke me, when every cynical barrier came down and this seasoned writer dissolved in tears, leaving behind a giddy schoolboy.

Even at the time, I knew the game would be incapable of reaching such heights again. There was a reason the plucky Foxes were 5,000-1 rank outsiders for the title. Dreams can come true, but only once.

But I cried a second time last night. I watched the clip again on YouTube. There's Ranieri weeping and Bocelli singing and then there's a shot of one man, smiling and clapping, the man behind the miracle.

It's Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and Bocelli is now singing a second song.

Time to Say Goodbye.

Thai billionaire Vichai's family visits Leicester crash site

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    Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, son of Leicester City's owner Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, clasps his hands together as he stands infront of Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel amongst tributes left for Vichai and four other people who died when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed as it left the ground after the match on Saturday, in Leicester, Britain, October 29, 2018.

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    The family of the late Thai billionaire boss of Premier League club Leicester City paid tribute to him on Monday at the site where his helicopter crashed as investigators began examining the aircraft's black box.

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    Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha (right) and Aimon Srivaddhanaprabha, the son and wife of Leicester City's Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha who died in a helicopter crash at the club's stadium, look at the floral tributes left to the victims of the crash.

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    Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's son and widow were seen laying a wreath among a sea of tributes from fans outside the stadium, including flowers, football scarves and Buddhist statues.

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    Vichai's son Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, known as "Top", is chief executive of his father's duty-free empire King Power and also vice-chairman of the football club Vichai bought in 2010.

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    Along with other family members and executives from King Power, the two were also seen laying wreaths at the crash site in a car park near the stadium, which is still cordoned off as air accident investigators pick through the wreckage.

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    Five people died in Saturday's crash, including also two members of Vichai's staff, Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and the pilot's girlfriend, Izabela Roza Lechowicz, also a pilot.

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    Nursara Suknamai was an actress and a runner-up in Miss Thailand Universe in 2005.

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    The reins of King Power Group's multi-billion-baht business empire is now in the hands of 32-year-old Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha.

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    With his father gone, Aiyawatt has to take over as the CEO of King Power Group as well as chairman of the English Premier League football club Leicester City.

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    However, it remains unclear if Aiyawatt has his father's mettle, especially in terms of having a formidable wheeler-dealer attitude, even though he has been groomed over the past several years for these new challenges.

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    Fans laid down hundreds of football scarves, shirts and flowers outside Leicester City's stadium on Sunday, a day after the club's Thai billionaire owner died in a helicopter crash just outside the ground.

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    Fans streamed to the stadium to express their gratitude long before official confirmation that the 60-year-old businessman, who frequently flies to and from Leicester's home games by helicopter, was aboard the aircraft.

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    Four other people on the helicopter, including two members of Vichai's staff, were also killed in the crash.

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    Residents remembered a determined and charismatic figure who was the driving force behind a footballing feat when the club rose through the ranks to win the top spot two years ago.

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    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.

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

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    Kanti Patel, one of the first supporters to come to pay tribute in the early hours of Sunday, 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."

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    Another fan, Nathavut Sirimontaporn, said Vichai had 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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    A man kneels with a statue of the Buddha and devotional scripture in front of the floral tributes gathered outside Leicester City Football Club's King Power Stadium in Leicester, eastern England, on October 28, 2018

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    Pedestrians walk past a mural showing Leicester City Football Club's Thai chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha near De Montfort University in Leicester, eastern England, on October 28, 2018.

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It is as heart wrenching as it is unfair. The EPL's most uplifting finale does not deserve such a horrific epilogue.

In 2016, Vichai pulled off the impossible for the people of Leicester. Yesterday, the people of Leicester returned to the King Power Stadium in their thousands. It was time to pay their respects. Time To Say Goodbye.

A couple of elderly ladies summed up the mood. He wasn't a typical club owner, one of them told Sky News, he was part of our family.

Vichai's endearing acts of generosity were already the stuff of legend around Leicester.

Free beer and cakes for everyone at the stadium to celebrate his birthday, free scarves for travelling fans and free season tickets for a lucky few, the Thai billionaire's giveaways were as quirky as they were varied.

Then there was the £2 million (S$3.5m ) donation to a new children's hospital and a further £1m to the city's university medical department. For a man reportedly worth £5 billion, the gestures were never going to break the bank or do his PR any harm, but he did them nonetheless.

Plenty of other club owners don't.

More than that, Vichai saved Leicester. In 2008, the Foxes dropped into the third tier for the first time and were expected to drift towards bankruptcy. Long-serving employees were shown the door as the club struggled to stay afloat.

Two years later, Vichai's family bought the club for £39m, loaned another £100m, which was subsequently converted into shares, leaving Leicester debt-free and on the road to the greatest EPL story every told.

In pre-season, the £100m spent in the transfer market read like a mission statement. Vichai was going nowhere. He was as devoted to the club as he was to the city itself and they both loved him for it.

And now, cruelly, they mourn for the man who gave hope to sporting minnows everywhere.

One of the richest men in Asia was no minnow, obviously, and his ruthlessness in business extended to the Leicester boardroom, where he removed several managers, including Ranieri.

But his long-term commitment to an unfashionable club allowed supporters in every team, in every country, in every sport to believe it was possible to "do a Leicester".

Vichai's Foxes added that phrase to the sporting lexicon.

That will be his legacy. To "do a Leicester" is to overcome incalculable odds, defeat the incumbents and turn every underdog's dream into glorious reality.

And they did it, thanks to that unassuming man high in the stand, smiling and applauding, celebrating the unforgettable day the world wept with Ranieri and his overachieving heroes.

Vichai achieved the impossible because he did the implausible. He put his money on the little guys.

That's why he'll be remembered as a giant at Leicester.

This article was first published in The New Paper. Permission required for reproduction.

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