Leicester City play emotional first match since owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's death

English Premier League club Leicester City came back to play its first competitive match following a week of...

Posted: Nov 4, 2018 10:59 PM
Updated: Nov 4, 2018 10:59 PM

English Premier League club Leicester City came back to play its first competitive match following a week of mourning for its owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died in a helicopter accident last Saturday.

In delivering a 1-0 win away at Cardiff City, the team had the prefect tribute for the beloved Thai billionaire, who brought the club its first-ever top-flight league championship in its 134-year history.

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Srivaddhanaprabha, 60, was one of five people on board the aircraft when it burst into flames after crashing in a parking lot next to the club's King Power Stadium around an hour after the club's 1-1 draw with West Ham last Saturday. No one on board survived.

His helicopter was a familiar sight at the Leicester stadium, landing in the middle of the pitch to ferry its owner to and from home games.

Witnesses said the helicopter had barely cleared the 25 meter (82 foot) high stadium walls before making a loud noise, crashing to the ground and igniting in a large fireball.

Minute of silence

Ahead of Saturday's match in the Welsh capital the stadium played a short tribute to the club's owner and CEO with a minute's silence.

Standing in black tracksuits the entire squad and backroom staff stood in a semi circle around the center circle, facing the matchday squad in its famous all-blue kit.

Staff and players alike stood with heads bowed, trying to rein in their emotions -- with stars like Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel barely holding back tears, a testament to how much Srivaddhanaprabha meant to the Foxes family.

Rob Tanner, Chief Football Writer for the Leicester Mercury, told CNN's Patrick Snell that the minute's silence was a moving tribute.

"The whole of the backroom team, all the squad members who weren't playing today, they all came onto the field, which I haven't seen before," Tanner said, adding that it is usually just the starting 11 that take part in on-field tributes.

"They were unified in their decision (to play the game Saturday), that it was important to them to pay respect to Vichai, by playing today and they've certainly made him proud in that sense."

Tribute to 'the boss'

In the pre-match warmup the players wore white T-shirts bearing an image of Srivaddhanaprabha, below the words "the boss."

Demarai Gray scored the only goal of the game, removing his shirt to reveal his own tribute -- "for Khun Vichai," using the Thai honorific.

Unfortunately the gesture saw him cautioned -- a player removing a shirt leads to a yellow card under the game's laws.

"Demarai Gray was booked for taking his shirt off... which really took the gloss off it a little but it was very poignant, very emotional," Tanner said. "At the final whistle they all went to the corner (of the Cardiff stadium) where the away fans were and all of them stood and applauded them. They must have been stood there for 10-15 minutes."

"I think it was a day that they really needed to get out the way now," Tanner said. "It's the first step in the healing process."

The billionaire's funeral is taking place over seven days in his native Thailand and the Leicester City squad were scheduled to fly to Asia after the match to pay their respects.

Upon return from Asia they'll play their first home game since the tragedy, against Burnley next Saturday, at the King Power Stadium. The club's home ground has become a sprawling tribute of flowers, scarves and Leicester replica kits since last week's accident.

"There's 3,000 fans who traveled to Cardiff and they've done the club proud with their support but there will be 32,000 at the King Power Stadium next week so it'll be even more emotional," Tanner said.

Lasting legacy

Srivaddhanaprabha bought the club for $57 million in 2010 and it was promoted to the Premier League in 2014. In 2016, the club achieved the once-unthinkable feat of winning the premiership.

It went into the 2015-2016 season with odds of 5,000-1 to win but stunned fans, and bookmakers, by taking the title.

The club's extraordinary run of success played out under Srivaddhanaprabha's ownership. Along with handing fans their first top-flight title in the club's history, the businessman won over fans by handing out free beer, water and cupcakes, as well as scarves in cold weather, in the stands.

The Thai was No. 388 on the Forbes' billionaires list, with a net worth of $4.9 billion. He made his fortune through the creation of the King Power chain of duty-free stores, Thailand's largest. Srivaddhanaprabha's company sponsors the team's stadium.

Elsewhere in the Premier League Saturday, players stood in silence ahead of their matches as a mark of respect for the Leicester City owner and ahead of Britain's annual Remembrance Day, while some teams wore t-shirts proclaiming solidarity with the grief-stricken Midlands club.

Arsenal came back to secure a 1-1 draw against league leader Liverpool in the day's marquee match, while Manchester United managed a 2-1 win over Bournemouth to draw level on points with the south coast side.

Newcastle United celebrated a welcome -- and rare -- 1-0 victory over Watford, Everton won 3-1 against Brighton and West Ham showed poise in an assured 4-2 win over Burnley.

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