Two years ago, Leicester City Football Club was the toast of the sports world after putting the exclamation mark on one of the greatest sports fairy tales ever written. The little team that could, 5,000-to-1 long shots to win the English Premier League, hoisted the trophy that was usually reserved for the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City.
The man behind the entire operation was Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Thai businessman who bought the club in 2010.
Srivaddhanaprabha always arrived and left the King Power Stadium, the club’s home ground, by helicopter. It was one of the most famous sights in the city and people got used to it.
Srivaddhanaprabha was aboard the helicopter when it crashed outside the stadium on Oct. 26 after Leicester City had played West Ham. It was an awful sight and I’ve seen the video of when the craft began to spin out of control. It was frightening to watch and I can only imagine the terror everyone on board must have felt.
Five people in total perished, including Srivaddhanaprabha, unleashing an outpouring of grief from a city which had hailed the man as a hero just two years earlier. Such a sad and tragic end to one of sport’s most unbelievable triumphs.
So what caused the crash? The investigation is ongoing and the flight recorder has been recovered so that will answer plenty of questions. One expert, David Learmount, has been sought out by several news organizations for his opinion and he’s saying that if the tail rotor of the chopper was the problem – which many people have speculated it was – the pilot’s options were limited.
Learmount said no rotor meant no power and in that case, you have nowhere to go but down. If the pilot, identified as Eric Swaffer, was able shut down power quickly and idle the rotors once a problem was realized, he added, the main rotor could have kept spinning and the helicopter could have glided.
The problem was that the helicopter was spinning, said Learmount, and it made a tough job, such as quickly shutting down the power, next to impossible.
Srivaddhanaprabha is being remembered as a private person but someone who left their stamp on everything that happened around the club. Fans were famously given free beer and Krispy Kreme donuts when the team won the title in 2016 (kids got bottles of water but all the donuts they wanted). There was also free travel to away games – paid for by Srivaddhanaprabha – complete with full breakfasts, scarves and hand clappers, anything to make the experience better for the fans.
He also reportedly donated millions of dollars to the hospitals in the area. He gave away 60 free season tickets to the club’s most die-hard fans this season for his 60th birthday and had his birthday party in the youth wing of the Leicester Royal Infirmary.
The team itself was stunned when they heard the news of Srivaddhanaprabha’s death. Several of the team’s players were openly weeping when they arrived at the makeshift memorial which popped up outside the stadium. Srivaddhanaprabha’s wife and son paid a visit to see the tributes, one of which came from Claudio Ranieri, the manager who led Leicester City to the promised land two years ago.
Their League Cup game against Southampton was postponed but they got right back to work against Cardiff on Nov. 3, a game Leicester City manager Claude Puel said the score of which was unimportant.
Perhaps the best thing about all of this is Srivaddhanaprabha’s son, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, has said he will carry on what his father has already done. The fans and the city of Leicester itself needed to hear something along those lines if only for reassurance. He’s in charge now as the chairman of the board and everyone will be looking to him. Here’s hoping the fans and the city will show the son the same sort of love they showed his dad.
That’s the big thing for Leicester City right now. Yes, they must mourn and grieve the loss of someone who helped take the team to heights that may never be seen again but they need to get back to work and move on. We all go through that when we lose someone we care about. It’s going to be hard to move on but we all have to.
Leicester City will move on but it probably won’t be the same for a while.