Leices­ter to pay heart­felt trib­ute to Thai owner killed in crash

The Borneo Post (Sabah) - - SPORT -

LEICES­TER, United King­dom: Leices­ter City are to pay an emo­tional trib­ute to late owner Vichai Sri­vad­dhanaprabha on Satur­day as the club play at their King Power Sta­dium for the first time since his death in a he­li­copter crash.

The charis­matic Thai had be­come a beloved fig­ure in the club and the city -- a feat rarely achieved by Pre­mier League clubs' of­ten dis­tant bil­lion­aire own­ers.

Un­der Vichai's own­er­ship Leices­ter pro­duced one of the big­gest up­sets in English foot­ball his­tory by win­ning the 2015/16 Pre­mier League, hav­ing started the sea­son as 5,000-1 out­siders for the ti­tle.

To echo those odds, around 5,000 fans are ex­pected to walk from the city cen­tre to the sta­dium be­fore the Pre­mier League match against Burn­ley.

On Fri­day, the club an­nounced plans to erect a statue of Vichai at the sta­dium.

His son Aiyawatt, the club's vice-chair­man, wrote in Satur­day's match pro­gramme: "We will never be able to re­pay what he did for us -- for me as his son, us as his fam­ily, ev­ery­one con­nected to Leices­ter City and be­yond -- but we are com­mit­ted to hon­our­ing his mem­ory and up­hold­ing his legacy."

Vichai was among five peo­ple killed when the he­li­copter plunged to the ground in a car park just out­side the sta­dium fol­low­ing Leices­ter's match against West Ham on Oc­to­ber 27.

The team, cur­rently 10th in the Pre­mier League, re­turned to ac­tion last week­end, beat­ing Cardiff 1-0 away, but on Satur­day a ca­pac­ity home crowd will have a chance to show their ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the man who trans­formed their club.

A spe­cial "Trib­ute to Khun Vichai" video will be shown on big screens be­fore kick-off and a two-minute si­lence will be held. Fans will re­ceive com­mem­o­ra­tive scarves and sou­venir match­day pro­grammes in hon­our of the club's late chair­man.

The play­ers will wear trib­ute Tshirts dur­ing their warm-up and in the first half the team will don shirts em­broi­dered with Vichai's name.

The sec­ond-half shirts will bear the poppy sym­bol in hon­our of those who have given their lives in war, with the match se­lected as the club's an­nual re­mem­brance fix­ture, 100 years af­ter the end of World War I.

A num­ber of play­ers, in­clud­ing Jamie Vardy and Kasper Sch­me­ichel, and man­ager Claude Puel trav­elled to Thai­land to at­tend Vichai's fu­neral.

Sch­me­ichel has been es­pe­cially af­fected, hav­ing watched the he­li­copter take off from the pitch be­fore it ap­peared to go into a fate­ful spin.

"I was on the pitch and I waved him off," said Sch­me­ichel. "I saw it all hap­pen. It is some­thing that will stay with me, un­for­tu­nately."

Mourn­ers have turned Leices­ter's sta­dium into a shrine to Vichai over the last two weeks, car­pet­ing the ground with flo­ral trib­utes and mes­sages of thanks.

Sto­ries have emerged of Vichai's acts of gen­eros­ity to the club's sup­port­ers and play­ers and size­able do­na­tions he made to lo­cal hospi­tals.

Puel said he ex­pected an emo­tional af­ter­noon.

"We know our fans, they are fan­tas­tic... there were 3,000 of them at our last game in Cardiff, it was a fan­tas­tic re­union with the fans," Puel said.

"Af­ter the game, there was a lot of emo­tion that we shared with them and we can imag­ine what it will be like at home with 30,000 peo­ple in the sta­dium."

He ad­mit­ted get­ting the play­ers ready for the game against strug­gling Burn­ley had been tough.

"It's not easy to pre­pare this game, but the to­geth­er­ness be­tween us all, it's a good feel­ing, a good en­ergy, a fan­tas­tic strength," he said.

"Our strength, spirit and pos­i­tive at­ti­tude, as well as the sup­port of our fans, will be very im­por­tant.

"In the last game, we found the right bal­ance be­tween emo­tion and con­cen­tra­tion, and fo­cus on our game." - AFP

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