Leicester City footballers in Bangkok to pay respects to Vichai

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Players and staff from Leicester City arrived in Bangkok on Sunday to attend a mourning rite for the club's chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (AFP Photo)
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AFP

Players and staff from Leicester City arrived in Bangkok on Sunday to attend a mourning rite for the club’s chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, whose death last week in a helicopter crash stunned the Premier League club.

Thailand’s business and political elites have turned out to pay their respects to Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. (Photo: AFP)

Sunday marks the second day of a week-long ceremony held at Wat Thepsirin, one of Bangkok’s most famous temples which typically serves as the site for funerals of prominent Thais.

Over the coming days Thailand’s business and political elites are expected to visit the temple to pay their respects, while monks will chant Buddhist verses over the duty-free mogul’s body.

Vichai, 60, died last week, along with four others, when his helicopter crashed and burst into flames moments after taking off from Leicester’s pitch following a match.

His death sent shockwaves through Leicester, where the charismatic Vichai had become a beloved figure in the club and the city — a feat rarely achieved by the Premier League’s foreign owners.

It was under Vichai’s ownership that Leicester crafted one of the biggest fairytales in English football history by winning the 2015/16 Premier League, having started the season as 5,000-1 outsiders for the title.

– ‘The Boss’ –

On Saturday the team played at Cardiff City, their first match since his death, with players from both teams coming together to pay their respects before the game.

Massive banners featuring Thailand’s flag saying “R.I.P. Vichai” moved across the stadium, and the crowd observed a minute of silence. Fans wore T-shirts with Vichai’s picture on it, underneath the words “The Boss”.

After the match, 13 members of Leicester City — including manager Claude Puel, striker Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki — boarded a chartered flight to Bangkok, according to a statement from Vichai’s company, King Power.

Arriving at Wat Thepsirin around 6 pm, Puel and Leicester’s director of football Jon Rudkin walked at the front of the contingent, their gaze resolute under the flashing lights of photographers.

They were closely followed by team captain Wes Morgan and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel — who is believed to be the closest of all the Leicester players to Vichai.

Behind them came Vardy and Okazaki, defenders Harry Maguire, Christian Fuchs and Ben Chilwell, midfielders Wilfred Ndidi, James Maddison, Marc Albrighton and Andy King.

Upon entering the temple, they gave Vichai’s family a hug, and then offered up jasmine flowers as they knelt in front of a octagonal bejeweled urn given by the king to pay their final respects to their beloved chairman.

Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, the daughter of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, also attended the Buddhist rite, arriving about 30 minutes before the start of the recitation ceremony.

The first three days of the elaborate ceremony will have royal sponsorship.

After the week-long ceremony, Vichai’s body will be kept for 100 days before cremation, though a date has yet to be set.

Vichai’s company started out with a single store in Bangkok; today, his King Power empire includes a monopoly over the duty-free shops in Thailand’s tourist-heavy airports.

Despite his business smarts Vichai owed his ascent to the canny navigation of Thailand’s unpredictable politics and powerbrokers.

His links to the monarchy were reflected in the name of his company and his surname — which was bestowed upon him by the former king, and means “auspicious and prosperous light”.

Vichai leaves behind a wife and four children, two sons and two daughters.

The four other crash victims were identified by British police as Nursara Suknamai — an actress and a runner-up in Miss Thailand Universe in 2005 — and Kaveporn Punpare, both members of Vichai’s staff, pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.

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