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A lasting legacy: The Leicester helicopter crash, one year on

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
28 Oct 2019, 01:04 IST

Southampton FC v Leicester City - Premier League
Southampton FC v Leicester City - Premier League

Almost one year to the day since the tragic helicopter accident which claimed the life of Leicester's owner and chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, they produced the biggest away win in Premier League history beating Southampton 9-0. On the pitch after the game Jamie Vardy uttered the words, "I hope you were watching boss!"

The more you follow football the more it becomes clear in the modern game that very few owners are liked, let alone adored. Vichai was the absolute exception to this; he was loved not only by fans of his team, but also those within the city and in fact the wider football community.

This was epitomised in the first home game after the Leicester owner's death, where the travelling Watford fans displayed a banner reading "Thank You Vichai For Allowing Us All To Dream". As a West Ham fan, it is impossible to disagree with this statement.

By guiding Leicester to the Premier League title, defying the odds of 5000/1, Vichai made the impossible possible - not just for Leicester fans, but for all football fans.

I was there on the night last year as an away supporter when Vichai's helicopter crashed in a car park behind the King Power Stadium after Leicester's underwhelming draw with West Ham. In the days after, I was lucky enough to be in Leicester, and that is when it became clear to me just how special a man he was.

My lasting memory of the events of 27 October last year will not be Vichai's legacy around just Leicester City Football Club, but more so his legacy with the people of Leicester. In the days and weeks after the crash the people of Leicester came together as a community, to honour their beloved owner.


Mourners Pay Tribute After Leicester City Helicopter Crash
Mourners Pay Tribute After Leicester City Helicopter Crash

One of the many fans who has been impacted by Vichai is Andrew Smith.

Smith has been a Leicester City fan since the mid-70s, when he first went to games in Filbert Street on the back of his dad’s motorbike. He has been through the ups and downs of being a Leicester fan, but when Vichai bought Leicester in 2010, that changed.

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"He has changed the club I have supported since I was a young boy, from a local club to making us fans feel part of something. He made everyone feel we are a family and he was the head of the family. Someone, unlike other owners, who cared about the fans," Smith said.

Vichai bought Leicester City in 2010 and took over from Milan Mandaric as chairman in February 2011, with Leicester marooned in the championship. In the subsequent years he steered Leicester into an excellent financial position and back into the Premier League, before his finest act.

"He gave me the greatest moment of my life winning the Premier League, and it still gets me emotional now thinking of the journey he has taken the club on," Smith added.

It was a 5000/1 shot, yes. The greatest underdog story in football? Probably. But because of the way Vichai had built the club up and all the decisions he made, it was by no means lucky.

He had this remarkable power of making anybody and everybody related with Leicester City Football Club believe they were special, and that the impossible could be achieved.

Boy, did he deliver.

"I never forget how his input into the club changed the way I looked at football and gave me opportunities to witness things such as the Champions league matches and the party to celebrate the Premier league win," Smith went on.

In 2014, Vichai donated £2 million towards the Leicester Children's Hospital Appeal in 2016. Since his death, a foundation has been set up in his name, and it has continued his legacy.

This year the foundation donated £610,000 to various groups in memory of his 61st birthday. Recently they donated £800,000 to the redevelopment of Leicester Cathedral.

At the centre of the community, however, was his beloved Leicester City. And what he did for their fans cannot really be put into words.

Smith said: "For the club he made us feel like a family club but also a big club. He looked after all the fans, including giving away scarfs, hats and flags at away games, free beers at games for the fans, donations to local charity and hospitals, and seemed to care about Leicester as a city as well as a club.

"It was like magic, the way he has bucked the trend of owners people never saw. He was part of the community and people’s hearts.

"This may all sound very cheesy, but in watching football for 45 years, the last few years have been like a dream and the Boss gave us all that feeling," Smith added.

Leicester City v Burnley FC - Premier League
Leicester City v Burnley FC - Premier League

The fans have paid tribute one year on, in the same way they did a year ago - in huge numbers, celebrating what Vichai did for their club.

"Last week the fans did the walk for Vichai. We all stood in silence with scarfs held high against Burnley," said Smith, before adding that every fan will have had their own private thoughts.

"My thoughts are simple; he made my dreams come true and continues to make me think the impossible," Smith said.

The memory that stuck with me close in the days and weeks after the tragedy, is that Smith's story and connection with "The Boss" is not alone.

That win on Friday night fittingly took Leicester to second in the Premier League. Even a year after his death, the legacy of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha continues to live on.

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