'He made us champions': Leicester pays tribute to Thai owner killed in helicopter crash

'He made us champions': Leicester pays tribute to Thai owner killed in helicopter crash
PHOTO: Reuters

LEICESTER - 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.

Among the sea of tributes to Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha - the funder behind the club's epic 2016 Premier League victory - was also an image of Ganesh, a Hindu god often seen at Thai Buddhist temples.

As emergency vehicles passed back and forth from the scene of the crash, a steady stream of people came to express their gratitude: a man on crutches, a father consoling his teenage son, a woman carrying a bouquet of blue and white flowers - the colours of the football club.

ALSO READ: Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha: Master of the big deal

"He's put Leicester on the map. He's made us big, we're not just a little club anymore," said one supporter, 55-year-old Cathy Dann, speaking before Srivaddhanaprabha's death was confirmed.

John Welford, 68, said: "What a fantastic man! I've been a supporter 60 years and personally I think he's the best ever owner we've ever had".

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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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.

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

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.

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.

"They're sort of around like supporters, they're like us. They believe in what the club is and they've bought into that," said Mahendra Mistri, 59.

'HE MADE US CHAMPIONS'

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."

Another fan, Tom Lievers, arrived with a "Champions" scarf to pay tribute to Vichai.

"Well you know where we were when he bought the club - we were absolutely nowhere. So I brought down my 'Champions' scarf because he made us champions."

Andrew Aldwinckle said: "He was more like he was a supporter, a proper supporter, rather than a money man. He was one of the crowd. As far as we're concerned, that's it."

Steve Walton, who wore the club's blue hat, said: "I think there's a lot of Leicester fans around the world - not just in Leicester, but around the world - who I think will be devastated and he meant a lot to the fans."

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

At a football game in central Bangkok, Leicester City fan Apichart Jitratkavee said he was an important person who "raised the bar of Thai football further.

"There were projects by Leicester City to select Thai teenagers to train in the club's academy. They will have a chance to serve the nation in the future."

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.

Club Statement: Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. It is with the deepest regret and a collective broken heart that we confirm our Chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was among those to have tragically lost their lives on Saturday evening when a helicopter carryin

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Club Statement: Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. It is with the deepest regret and a collective broken heart that we confirm our Chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was among those to have tragically lost their lives on Saturday evening when a helicopter carrying him and four other people crashed outside King Power Stadium. None of the five people on-board survived. The primary thoughts of everyone at the Club are with the Srivaddhanaprabha family and the families of all those on-board at this time of unspeakable loss. In Khun Vichai, the world has lost a great man. A man of kindness, of generosity and a man whose life was defined by the love he devoted to his family and those he so successfully led. Leicester City was a family under his leadership. It is as a family that we will grieve his passing and maintain the pursuit of a vision for the Club that is now his legacy. A book of condolence, which will be shared with the Srivaddhanaprabha family, will be opened at King Power Stadium from 8am on Tuesday 30 October for supporters wishing to pay their respects. Supporters unable to visit King Power Stadium that wish to leave a message can do so through an online book of condolence, which will be made available via lcfc.com in due course. Both Tuesday’s First Team fixture against Southampton in the EFL Cup and the Development Squad fixture against Feyenoord in the Premier League International Cup have been postponed. Everyone at the Club has been truly touched by the remarkable response of the football family, whose thoughtful messages of support and solidarity have been deeply appreciated at this difficult time.

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