The football world is in a state of shock after the tragic events on Saturday which saw five passengers, including Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, lose their lives in a helicopter crash at the club’s King Power stadium.
Srivaddhanaprabha, two members of his staff - Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare - pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz, all died when the aircraft crashed at about 20:30 BST on Saturday.
They had watched Leicester secure a point with a last-gasp equaliser against West Ham in a Premier League match and, as was customary after watching his team, Srivaddhanaprabha took off from the pitch in his private helicopter, which was scheduled to fly to Luton Airport, where he would have flown back to his native Thailand. Sadly, though, witnesses described the helicopter only just clearing the stadium before spiralling out of control and crashing in a fireball.
Reports suggest that pilot Eric Swaffer deliberately steered the stricken helicopter toward an empty car park, avoiding hundreds of Leicester City fans who could have potentially been at risk.
Srivaddhanaprabha was the man who oversaw one of the greatest sporting stories of all-time as the club avoided near-certain relegation in 2015 before winning the title the following season under manager Claudio Ranieri. He had owned the club since 2010, buying them for £39m, clearing their debts and then seeing them rise into the Premier League in 2014. Two years later, they were champions.
Tributes have been paid to him from a host of current and former Leicester players, but foremost among them is an open letter from goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, who has been with the club since 2011, playing 270 games for the club. It describes just how well-liked he was and detailed the charity work that the billionaire contributed to.
The letter, which was posted on Twitter reads:
Dear Mr Chairman
I cannot believe this is happening. I am so totally devastated and heartbroken. I just cannot believe what I saw last night. It just doesn’t seem real!
It is difficult to put into words how much you have meant to this football club and to the city of Leicester. We all know about the investment in the football club you and your family have made. But this is about so much more. You cared so deeply for not just the club but for the entire community. Your endless contribution to Leicester’s hospitals and charities will never be forgotten. You went above and beyond in every aspect.
Never have I ever come across a man like you. So hard working, so dedicated, so passionate, so kind and so generous in the extreme. You had time for everyone. You touched everyone. It didn’t matter who it was, you had time for them. I always admired you as a leader, as a father and as a man.
You changed football. Forever! You gave hope to everyone that the impossible was possible, not just to our fans but to fans all over the world in any sport! Not many people have done that. When you signed me back in 2011 you said to me we would be in the champions league within 6 years and we would do great things. You inspired me and I believed in you. You made me feel like nothing was impossible. Without you and your family, all this, everything we did together everything we achieved would never have happened. You gave me experiences that only happen in fantasy.
You literally made my dreams come true.
But what I am most proud of is to have been part of your vision. The environment you created. This club, this city is a family. And that is all because of you. For this I am eternally grateful. I am grateful to have known you and grown close to you and your amazing family and for all the private moments and joint experiences I had with you on a personal level. It breaks my heart to know I will never see you in the dressing room when I came in early from my warm-up and have a chat about everything and nothing. That you won’t be there having fun and laughing with the boys and seeing your infectious smile and enthusiasm that rubbed off on everyone you came into contact with.
We now have a responsibility as a club, as players and fans to honour you. From knowing you we do this by being the family you created. By sticking together and supporting those closest to you through horrendous time.
You had a vision for this club, you wanted the best for us. There was absolutely nothing you wouldn’t do for us. You were so passionate. We must honour your legacy by delivering for you on the pitch like you also wanted and continue being the close-knit family club that you built.
You will never know how much you meant to me and my family.
I am truly honoured and privileged to have been a small part of your life.
England internationals Harry Maguire, Jamie Vardy and Ben Chilwell were also among those to pay tribute to Srivaddhanaprabha.
Meanwhile, a beautiful tribute also came from Liverpool owners John W Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon, who issued a joint statement, saying:
“Vichai is a great loss not just to his club but to the Premier League and English football as a whole.
“Srivaddhanaprabha was the ultimate custodian for the club he bought and then gracefully served.
“The Premier League title win, one of world football’s all-time great stories, is of course the standout achievement. But beyond that, he led his club in a manner which all of us in this privileged position aspire to. Success on the pitch, allied with outstanding governance off it.”
The club’s next fixture, against Southampton in the EFL Cup, which was due to take place on Tuesday night, has been postponed. Meanwhile, a book of condolence will be opened at the stadium from Tuesday morning.