'Leicester City fans loved Vichai for his deeds, not his words'

Lee Marlow, Leicester City fan and journalism lecturer, was at the game against West Ham United on Saturday.

A former feature writer at the Leicester Mercury, he was at the paper when Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha took over his club.

Here, he looks back on a golden period in Leicester City history.

We couldn’t pronounce his name when he first arrived.

Vichai Raksriaksorn: Thai billionaire businessman. Owner of the King Power Duty Free stores, said the back page of the Leicester Mercury.

We didn’t know about them, either – King Power? Who are they? – but that soon changed when photographs started appearing of Bangkok duty free shops selling Leicester City shirts. How we loved that.

And then, just as we were getting used to Raksriaksorn, it changed again to something even more unpronounceable. Srivaddhanaprabha – a title bestowed on the 60-year-old entrepreneur by the Thai royal family, in recognition of his success and philanthropy.

It’s hard to form a close bond with someone whose name you can’t pronounce and have to Google to spell. But we did that at Leicester City Football Club. We loved Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

We loved Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha not just for who he was – but because of who he wasn’t.

We loved him not only for what he did – but what he didn’t do.

The footballing landscape has been ruined by owners who take clubs as playthings, get bored and run them into the ground. You don’t need me to tell you who they are. We all know.

We knew the difference, at Leicester City Football Club, between good owners and bad ones.

We’d lived through the alternative.

We’d had owners who didn’t care.

We’d had owners who couldn’t club together the £50,000 needed to buy a former midfield favourite who wanted to return to the club. This wasn’t the 1960s. It was just over a decade ago.

We’d had owners whose grip on the LCFC purse string was so careless it plunged the club into administration.

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was not like that.

When he arrived at Leicester in the summer of 2010, he bought the club from Milan Mandaric. There was concern in some quarters that because Mandaric had sealed the deal then maybe this new Thai chap was cut from the same cloth.

He wasn’t.

If Mandaric was all about hiring and firing and shooting from the hip in 72pt back page headlines – and, oh boy, he was – then Khun Vichai, to give him his conventional Thai title, was the opposite of that.

I was a feature writer at the Leicester Mercury when Vichai arrived. I did all sorts of features about Leicester City during my time there. I never interviewed him. Few people did.

He didn’t do many interviews. He didn’t want to and he didn’t have to. So he didn’t. He preferred to do what he had to do and stay, unnoticed, in the background.

As much as I wanted to sit down and interview him – What made him tick? What did he laugh at? How did he feel during a game? – I respected him for that.

Today, social media and news outlets all over the world are full of people who barely knew the man talking about him as if they did.

As a journalist, but also as a Leicester City fan, I’m not sure I like that. I hope this is not another one of those pieces.

But I knew him – we all knew him – for what he did. We judged him on his deeds, not his words.

In these uncertain times, we should do more of that.

Because that’s the measure of a person – what they do, not what they say.

And here, Khun Vichai’s record is unblemished.

He gave me, all of us, our finest ever season as Leicester City fans.

He took the debts from my debt-ridden club and cleared them.

He took the stadium from some largely unknown American investment firm who were charging us, every year, to play on it, and returned it to the club.

He invested in the infrastructure of Leicester City Football Club. A new state-of-the art £100m training ground on the outskirts of the county has recently received planning permission.

On special occasions, he bought us all – the fans – beers and doughnuts and crisps and scarves.

He didn’t have to. But he did.

That didn’t matter, really – the peripheral stuff. The Saturday afternoon freebies.

What mattered was that he loved our club and he did his best to make it successful. He achieved this, when everyone else – including many of us, the cynical and hard to please City fans, the seen-it-all-before merchants – thought it was impossible.

I was at the game yesterday.

At the final whistle – an underwhelming 1-1 draw with a 10-man West Ham – I sighed and trudged back to the car. In the background, a blue and white helicopter landed at King Power Stadium.

It never made it home.

I’ve seen the pictures. I’ve read the news. I know how it looks, even though I’m hoping I’m wrong.

It’s always a tragedy when someone goes to a game and doesn’t make it home. As football fans, we know this. This brings us together like nothing else.

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