The tragic death of Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in a horrific helicopter crash outside the King Power stadium on Saturday night has naturally sent shockwaves throughout the game. But it has also had an added resonance with football fans everywhere, from Plymouth Argyle up to Elgin City, and quite rightly too.
Vichai wasn’t your average football club chairman – in fact, if the average football fan could put together a composite figure that they’d want at the helm of their club, he would pretty much fit the bill.
I have to admit, I wasn’t really aware of how good he was until I heard he gave out free beer, hot dogs and doughnuts to supporters on his birthday in 2016 and beyond – that was a gesture which appealed to the very core of who I am (an enthusiastic consumer of unhealthy goods).
Fancy a ? and ? on Sunday?
— Leicester City (@LCFC) May 19, 2017
By then, Leicester were on the brink of that mind-boggling Premier League title win, and the further we get away from it, with the league’s status quo having since been restored, the more implausible and magical the whole thing becomes.
Vichai had rebooted the Foxes when he took over in 2011. Debts were wiped and he set about strengthening the bond between club and fans off the pitch, which he saw as being an integral part of what happened on it.
His death isn’t a tragedy that should be confined to Leicester City – fans of every club should see it as the senseless loss of someone who oversaw the kind of fairytale of which we all yearn to be part.
The fact that he was such a generous figure, donating vast sums of money to local hospitals and other causes, only adds to the romance of the story. He went above and beyond what we expect to see from football chairmen these days.
In recent years, the personal character of the owner of the clubs we support has become more important than that of the manager or even the players. If the man at the top is deeply flawed, it trickles down and infects the entire club.
Not so long ago, there was a tried and trusted methodology behind club ownership – a local businessman made good would run things, usually adopting the same methods that had made him a personal success.
Flashy extravagance was rare and clubs would, for the most part, live within their means, ebbing and flowing with the occasional promotion or relegation to punctuate things. No one got overly ambitious and clubs very rarely went out of business.
Enter globalisation and the vast expansion of the Premier League and all of a sudden, English football became a hot commodity for monied tycoons from far and wide to get involved in.
The relative stability of the past was gone and in recent years, we’ve seen more than a few club owners who have had no right to pass any kind of ‘fit and proper’ test. It’s not hard to quickly rattle off a list of clubs who we’ve seen fall into disrepair under the stewardship of incompetent or even malevolent owners.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was neither of those things.
Loved by fans and players alike, he took Leicester City on an incredible journey and didn’t compromise any of his beliefs about how a football club should operate while he did.
He wasn’t just Leicester, he was football – and anyone who loves this beautiful, compelling and infuriating game should mourn his passing.