by NADEEM BADSHAH and LAUREN CODLING
GRIEVING community leaders, business owners and fans have paid tribute to Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and called for a statue to be erected in his honour following his death in a helicopter crash last weekend.
The Midlands city is in mourning after the Thai billionaire, staff members Nursara Suknamai
and Kaveporn Punpare, and pilots Eric Swaffer and Izabela Roza Lechowicz were killed
in the tragedy last Saturday (27).
A framed picture of Hindu deity Ganesh along with football shirts of Real Madrid and Barcelona have been laid outside the King Power Stadium which has been turned into a shrine for the five victims.
Local mosques, gurdwaras and temples are set to hold prayers for the victims of the crash after the helicopter took off from the King Power Stadium and crashed in the ground’s
car park following the 1-1 draw against West Ham.
The media-shy businessman regularly flew by helicopter to games from his home in London and Berkshire.
Entrepreneurs and councillors in Leicester described Srivaddhanaprabha, 60, as a “legend whose legacy will live on” after he bought the debt-ridden team in 2010 and whose investment helped them stun the football world to win the Premier League six years later.
The father-of-four, who made his fortune in duty free stores, was famous for treating Leicester City’s players to holidays and cars, and was praised for uniting football fans and different communities.
Manjula Sood MBE, a councillor and former lord mayor of Leicester, told Eastern Eye: “It’s an unbelievable tragedy, the city is in shock. He was a very good person. Vichai was kind and caring to fans, he treated them as family.”
Describing him as a “man of faith,” Sood added his passing was a great loss to the city.
A petition for a statue of the businessman to be placed outside the King Power Stadium has attracted more than 24,000 signatures.
Sood added: “He should have something named after him, or a statue erected. He was a legend and his legacy will live on. We have a Gandhi statue in Leicester and when people pass by, they think about the Indian leader.”
“Vichai had a passion for humanity; few have that – when you have money, people lose that sometimes.”
The city was already in mourning following the death of Labour councillor Mo Chohan, whose funeral was held last Saturday.
On Tuesday (30), a book of condolence was opened for people to pay their tributes outside the King Power Stadium. De Montfort University also held a minute’s silence on campus in remembrance of Srivaddhanaprabha and the four other victims.
Dr Nik Kotecha OBE, chief executive of Loughborough- based Morningside Pharmaceuticals, attended the match last Saturday.
He heard the news of the helicopter crash as he drove home. Dr Kotecha told Eastern Eye: “I have had the honour of attending charity events in Leicester with Vichai and his family on a few occasions.
“The most recent was for the Leicester Royal Infirmary, which has received £1m in donations from his family. He was an incredibly generous man to the community and really brought the county together through his love of the club.”
Since buying Leicester for £39m in 2010 and paying off £100m in debts, Srivaddhanaprabha also donated £2m to the Children’s Hospital charity and £1m to the University of Leicester’s medical department.
Dr Kotecha said: “He was a successful businessman who gave a lot. He bought the club, turned it around and was very successful. But he also gave back, and to great causes such as the local hospital.
“I think what struck most people was his humbleness. He was a private man, but he came to the games and looked after the players. On his birthday he brought everyone a Thai beer and gave season tickets to dedicated fans, and also invited hospital patients to the game.
“For the club, he was instrumental in bringing the players together. They were one big family, and this radiated out to the city, which celebrated him for what he achieved.”
Dr Kotecha grew up in Leicester and is a Leicester-City fan. Since the tragedy he has been moved by the outpouring of grief from all corners of the city.
“He is somebody who has put Leicester on the map, not just in the UK but to businesses and communities around the world through the success of the club,” added Dr Kotecha. “I’ve heard people saying on the news and on social media that he was their champion because of everything he’s achieved.
“He brought a true family culture to the club and was a good man who wanted to help people and make a difference to the community. He looked after the fans, he attended almost every game and knew the players personally. He will be dearly missed but his legacy will live on.”
Deepak Bajaj is a councillor in Leicester who attended a procession from a local Hindu temple to the King Power Stadium to lay a wreath on Monday (29).
He told Eastern Eye: “He got the club out of bankruptcy when the city needed it, he set up charities, he helped us win the Premier League, helped local hospitals. He had big ambitions for the city and wanted to engage all Asian communities.
“We are getting over the shock of what happened. Leicester Council will think of a better way of paying tribute to him with the community.
“He got 250,000 people out from all ethnic communities for the Premier League parade in 2016, even people who didn’t know much about football. He was always smiling. I met him in the directors’ box at the stadium, he was very down-to-earth.”
Srivaddhanaprabha started King Power in 1989 with a duty-free shop in downtown Bangkok and grew it to become the country’s leading duty-free chain. Jaffer Kapasi, from the East Midlands Chamber, said the businessman made a huge contribution to the city and community.
He said: “Mr Vichai made an enormous contribution to Leicester and to the football world by investing in Leicester City, leading to the Premier League, international recognition of the football club and put Leicester firmly on the world map. My heart goes out in sympathy and condolences to the family members affected by the untimely deaths.
“Vichai was known for his generosity for donations to various charities and devotion to the club, especially the fans. He interacted quite openly with fans with love and affection, so he should get posthumous recognition from the Queen, a statue in his honour and a road be named after him.”
Vanisha Patel, an entrepreneur in Leicester, said she would not forget how her city was put on the map by the Thai tycoon.
She said: “When Leicester won the Premier League I remember being in Rome and getting really happy when Leicester would appear on TV when we were walking around.
“I saw the merchandise in Thailand and remember sending pictures home to my family. I enjoyed the celebrations and party in Victoria Park – the atmosphere, the love and everything about that day was awesome.
“As I’m reading more and more about Vichai, I can see why everyone has so much respect and love for him. His generosity, what he did for the community is unbelievable.”
Leicester MPs Jonathan Ashworth and Keith Vaz also paid tribute to Srivaddhanaprabha.
Both noted the impact he had on the city and how widely he would be missed.
Shadow health secretary Ashworth, who has represented Leicester South since 2011, said the city was still in shock.
“What happened on Saturday evening is beyond words… our thoughts are with the loved ones of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and the loved ones of all who lost their lives in the helicopter crash,” he said.
Describing Srivaddhanaprabha as a “kind and generous man a devoted father, grandfather and a good friend”, Vaz said it was truly the saddest day in Leicester City’s history.
The Leicester East MP said he had travelled with the businessman two weeks prior to his death and had ambitions to qualify for the Champions League once more.
“His ambition for the club was boundless,” Vaz recalled. “He enjoyed the total support of the fans who adored him, and he loved them back, showering them all with special surprises.”
Vaz added: “We will never forget him. Leicester will always love him.”