Leicester honour Vichai with victory on day of kinship at Cardiff
AS the clock reached 60 minutes, Leicester City’s supporters held their scarves aloft as one and began a rendition of the club anthem, ‘When you’re smiling’.
They had been able to do just that five minutes previously when Demarai Gray, clipping in a deft half-volley before embarking upon an emotional celebration with all 10 of his team-mates, adorned a performance of remarkable collective will with the winning goal. But the timing of the goal was mere coincidence.
The song had been timed to mark the age of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, so tragically taken a week ago, and was one of the many touching episodes during a difficult yet uplifting afternoon where the overriding sentiment was one of intense love for a man who transformed his club in the most thrilling of ways. The day was only ever going to be about Leicester but there was still a responsibility on their hosts, who could never have expected to stage an event clouded by such a ghastly pall. Cardiff met the task with grace, reverence and class.
Inside the match-day programme a dedication from the Bluebirds’ owner, Vincent Tan, CEO Ken Choo and chairman Mehmet Dalman described Srivaddhanaprabha as “a true pioneer and visionary whose legacy will live for ever”; a number of their fans gathered to applaud the Leicester squad as they arrived and the locals were generous with their acclaim, too, as they warmed up an hour later. The tone, on a football level and beyond, was one of kinship.
As Leicester went through their drills, wearing T-shirts bearing Srivaddhanaprabha’s face and the message “Khun Vichai, you will be forever in our hearts”, it was outwardly business as usual. Yet the sight of their entire travelling party — starting XI, substitutes and staff — lining up around the centre circle for a minute’s silence told of how the past week has shaken an institution to its core and nobody could be surprised if one or two needed helping through.
Kasper Schmeichel embraced every one of his team-mates as they prepared to pay their respects, stopping for a telling extra few seconds with the captain, Wes Morgan. It was Morgan who addressed everyone, a group numbering around 40, once the 60 seconds had passed. “The chairman would want us to go out there and give our best,” he had told broadcasters earlier.
Leicester did exactly that although, for all the sincerity in their sentiments, Cardiff were not about to be accommodating on the pitch. Neil Warnock and his players had made little mention of their own requirements but will have targeted this game as three points towards safety at the season’s outset.
Off they went at their usual brisk tempo, coming close when Harry Maguire blocked an effort from Bobby Reid. Maguire looked shaky and was later replaced after sustaining an injury when chasing Callum Paterson; Leicester’s discomfort continued and Victor Camarasa came within a crossbar’s width of putting Cardiff ahead with a free-kick that left Schmeichel rooted.
Leicester should have won a penalty before half-time when Jamie Vardy, reacting after Neil Etheridge had fumbled Ricardo Pereira’s daisy cutter, jabbed towards goal but saw the arm of Sol Bamba deflect the ball on to the bar. Lee Probert saw no offence; the incident had happened at high speed but the Leicester players’ reaction said enough.
It also told of their desire to win this one for Srivaddhanaprabha. That translated into a roaring start to the second half, which saw Gray backheel wide before going one better with a goal of the quality that became the hallmark of their late chairman’s era. Gray tore off his shirt to reveal another message in tribute to the departed. Probert looked suitably embarrassed to show him a yellow card before the restart.
The emotions poured out again at full-time. Claude Puel, such an impressive ambassador in the last seven days, had suggested the result of this match did not matter. But here the outcome felt exactly right.
An emotional Jamie Vardy with Demarai Gray after yesterday’s match.