Tuesday 24 September 2019

Obituary: Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha

Popular Thai billionaire owner of Leicester City who took the club to a sensational Premier League title

TRIBUTE: Leicester City fans pay tribute to the club’s popular owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died in last weekend’s helicopter crash. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
TRIBUTE: Leicester City fans pay tribute to the club’s popular owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died in last weekend’s helicopter crash. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who was killed last Saturday aged 60, was the billionaire owner of Leicester City and, though he kept a low profile, he was a key factor in the club's recent success - most notably when, to widespread astonishment, the club won the Premier League in 2016.

Leading a consortium, Srivaddhanaprabha, who made his fortune in duty-free retail in his native Thailand, bought the club from Milan Mandaric in 2010 for £39m.

He became chairman the next year. His interest in the team was said to have been sparked by seeing them play in the League Cup final at Wembley in 1997, the first time he had been to a match in England.

As owners, he and his family - his son Aiyawatt was appointed vice-chairman - worked hard to establish a bond with the fans.

Besides sinking some £100m into the club to free it of debt and provide money for transfers, Srivaddhanaprabha gained a reputation locally for generosity.

He donated £2m to a new children's hospital, £1m to the university medical department and £100,000 to the campaign to rebury King Richard III, whose remains had been found beneath a local car park.

Srivaddhanaprabha also gave supporters free hot-dogs and beer on his birthday, and to mark his 60th this year handed out many complimentary season tickets. He kept rises in ticket prices low and subsidised the cost of buses to away matches. Among the Thai touches that he brought to games were the presence of elephants, and of Buddhist monks who prayed for victory.

He, himself, was an animated presence in the directors' seats, and he showed both ruthlessness and shrewdness in his dealings with managers. Having inherited Sven-Goran Eriksson with the club in the Championship, after a year he replaced the former England manager with Nigel Pearson, who won the Foxes promotion as champions in 2014.

The following season they appeared doomed to relegation in early April but escaped by winning seven of their last nine matches.

Nonetheless, Pearson was sacked, in part due to player misbehaviour on their summer tour.

The appointment in his stead of the former Chelsea manager, Claudio Ranieri, was not greeted with enthusiasm by pundits.

The rest is now history. At odds of 5,000-1, Leicester won the Premier League, anchored by the unheralded N'Golo Kante, inspired by Riyad Mahrez and fired by the pace of Jamie Vardy. Srivaddhanaprabha celebrated by presenting 19 members of the squad with new BMW cars and giving them £1,000 to gamble at a casino - where he promptly won more than £2m himself playing cards.

When the team faltered the following year, he dispensed with Ranieri. Although many thought him ungrateful - the club's value had rocketed to £371m - his judgment was perhaps vindicated when Craig Shakespeare steadied the ship and guided the team to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. He too, however, was quickly replaced by Claude Puel.

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was born into a Thai Chinese family in Bangkok on April 4, 1958. His surname was Raksriaksorn until 2012, when as a mark of his success King Bhumibol bestowed on him the name Srivaddhanaprabha, meaning "light of progressive glory".

Having reportedly started in business with a handicrafts shop in the mid-1980s, Srivaddhanaprabha moved into duty-free goods, establishing a virtual monopoly in Thailand.

His King Power brand - for which Leicester's stadium is now named - opened a vast store in the centre of Bangkok and is the sole operator of duty-free shops at the country's airports.

Central to this achievement was the cultivation of close ties with politicians such as Thaksin Shinawatra, although Srivaddhanaprabha also managed to remain on good terms with the military rulers who succeeded him.

Forbes, this year, rated him the seventh richest person in Thailand, with a fortune of some $2.5bn. His other assets included the Belgian football club OH Leuven.

Besides collecting statues of the Buddha, Srivaddhanaprabha's principal relaxation was polo. He was its chief backer in Thailand, and latterly had made his King Foxes team among the best in England.

Based in Berkshire, where he had a house, they won the Gold and Queen's Cups in 2015.

Srivaddhanaprabha and his children were seen playing alongside members of the British royal family. From 2008 to 2012 he was chairman of Ham Polo Club, and he had recently begun to send out racehorses.

Although he stayed out of the media spotlight, Srivaddhanaprabha would arrive and leave Leicester's home matches in style aboard a helicopter which used the centre circle of the pitch as a helipad.

After watching last Saturday's match against West Ham, in which Leicester scored a late equaliser, he left in his customary fashion, only for the helicopter to crash outside the stadium a few moments later.

He and his wife Aimon had two sons and two daughters, several of whom were educated in Britain.

© Telegraph

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