By Lerpong Amsa-ngiam
But the miracle has happened. The club that was battling to escape relegation last season has now completed the fairy tale by claiming its first-ever top-flight English league title since it was founded way back in 1884.
More or less all Leicester fans believe this rags-to-riches success of the Foxes, who were still competing in the second-tier Championship level in the 2013-14 season, has to a great degree been down to the club’s Thai owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the chief executive officer of duty-free retailer King Power.
Since he stepped in as chairman in 2010 and has personally overseen the team with help from his youngest son, Aiyawatt, things have been going in the right direction.
“Before we had the Thai owners we were a very mediocre football team, and almost on the verge of going bankrupt. Then they came in and transformed the club,” said 55-year-old Paul Marshall, a Leicester resident and lifelong Foxes fan.
“Our previous owner [Milan Mandaric] was clueless and cheap. He dragged us down into League 1 [the third tier]. So, any other owner was welcome. We were happy to see Vichai,” said Alexander Sheppard, 19.
Unlike other football-club CEOs, Vichai and Aiyawatt do not invest money or own an English club just to decorate their portfolios. They spend most of their time in the UK to take close part in the team’s management, which has earned them salutes from the fans.
Apart from hands-on management, the famous Thai-style hospitality that Vichai and Aiyawatt have applied at the King Power Stadium has also won the hearts of Foxes’ fans.
A generous and warm reception – as the old proverb says, “Mi Casa Es Tu Casa” – is what they feel as they set foot inside the complex.
Free items are always placed on every seat at every home game for fans. They are also provided with free beer and meals from time to time – and even free doughnuts before the match against Southampton to celebrate Vichai’s 58th birthday in early April.
“We get free things now and then. The away fans get some free gifts, too. Every home match for the last two seasons we’ve had a free clapper, which doesn’t come cheap for them to do,” said Paul Eames, 51.
These treats not only happen at home games, as free breakfasts along with T-shirts and scarves are sometimes given to fans travelling for away matches, as well.
By propelling the team far from where they were when he started at the helm, plus his generosity and friendly personality, Vichai has become the toast of the town.
Recently he was conferred an honorary Doctor of Law degree by the University of Leicester.
“They come to the games a lot and reward city fans for their loyalty to the club. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be where we are,” said Martin Peyton, another loyal fan
To express their gratitude and appreciation, a group of fans led by Dean Hawthorne plans to present Vichai with a leather-bound album containing pictures and messages from Leicester fans worldwide as a means of expressing their gratitude, after the last home game of the season against Everton on May 7. Funds have been raised among them to produce this originally targeted 400 pounds (Bt20,400) souvenir book, but surprisingly much more – over 3,500 pounds – has been collected.
Messages from around the world
“I’ve had photos and messages from fans from all over the world, as far away as the US and Australia. I asked for a small donation for an entry in the book. The gift is a small token of appreciation for all they [Thai owners] have done for the club and the fans,” Hawthorne, who initiated the campaign, told The Nation.
He also plans to give the remaining money to the Foxes Foundation, a charity Vichai has started. With the bookies rating them a 5,000-1 chance at the start of the season, the Foxes’ triumph in the English Premier League has become one of the most magical sporting-underdog stories of all time.
Many fans would now like the Leicester City Council to show appreciation to the owner.
But for some, nothing means more than being able to show their gratitude in person.
Asked what he would say if he came across Vichai and his son again, Eames replied: “They’ve been fantastic for Leicester City FC and I’m proud that they’re our owners.”