The achievement of Leicester FC in winning the UK Premiership is a welcome and positive coup for Thailand and one of its leading families. It is also a fairytale and a magical story at many different levels.
‘Thank you Thailand for everything. I could kiss you.’ These were the words of a middle aged Leicester man in England this week broadcast all over the world on the BBC World News service. The man actually kissed the TV camera to show his gratitude.
The sporting achievement of Leicester, in winning the UK’s Premiership, is one of those stories that mushrooms. There are already many indications that it like the Leicester team, will run and run. It has dominated world headlines in countries all over the world relegating the arrival of the Olympic flame this week to a minor story and giving the world something positive to talk about instead of war in Syria or strife in Europe.
Premier Champions to visit Thailand ‘very, very soon’
The UK Premiership champions, making good news in a spontaneous and explosive outbursts of acclaim, will be visiting Thailand ‘very very soon’ according to the son of the club’s Thai owner and Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. He underscored the importance of the Thai connection to the club: ‘This is unbelievable. Thai people should be given a lot of credit as all players acknowledge how much support they have been given.’
Leicester team to be kept intact: Thai owners
Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, Vichai’s son, also announced that the club would strive to keep the winning team intact as inevitable speculation begins that lucrative offers may be made from wealthy clubs for the stars.
Speaking to AP he said: ‘We are not a team who produces players to be developed later by other teams. All players want to stay and keep on fighting together to see how far they can go. So selling players is not on our agenda.’ He said that his father was very proud of his association with Leicester: ‘He was already proud of being the owner of an English Premier League team. Now he has owned an English premier league champion team, he can’t be prouder. I have to say on his behalf that he has managed the club with his heart and he just hopes to gain a reputation for the country.’
Wealthy Thai businessman bought ‘The Foxes’ in 2010
Vichai, a reclusive but highly successful Thai businessman, is part of the mega wealthy Bangkok elite. He has made his fortune as the operator of Thailand’s duty free concessions. For most foreigners visiting Thailand the ‘King Power’ logo is one of the first things they will see at the Thai airport on arrival. It is the main sponsor of Leicester city. Its name is emblazoned on the front of the team’s jerseys and on the club’s modern stadium in the English city.
Mr. Srivaddhanaprabha bought Leicester City in 2010 when the club was playing in the league championship, the second tier of English football. Although the club had played in the Premiership and top flight football in the past, it had also played in the third tier or League one during the 2008/2009 season. The club was twice placed in administration, in 2002 and again in 2004. The nickname ‘The Foxes’ is due to the fox mascot known as ‘Filbert Fox’ which celebrates a history of fox hunting in Leicestershire. Before each home game the club plays the ‘post horn gallop’ to welcome the players on to the pitch.
Premiership spoils for Leicester and its Thai owners
Vichai is highly respected in Thailand and Bangkok as an astute and canny business man. The boss of the massively successful King Power duty free company is also a keen polo player. Bangkok, like a handful of other international cities such as Cairo and Mexico City is home to some of the wealthiest people in the world. In Thailand they are the ‘hi so’ but known to foreigners as the Bangkok elite. Vichai’s membership and elevated status even within this clique was confirmed in 2013 when the King of Thailand granted him a royal surname meaning ‘light of progressive glory’. The 58 year old is married with four children. Forbes has listed him as Thailand’s 9th wealthiest man with a fortune of $2.9 billion.
His initial investment in Leicester was reportedly $60 million although this was never confirmed. Just after this, he invested a similar amount in purchasing the club’s modern new stadium which was later rebranded as ‘King Power Stadium’. The club’s’ Premiership winning team of the 2015/16 season is reportedly cost $50 million, a fraction of the figure for clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool who have been left in their wake. The club’s share of the $7.4 billion of TV rights pot for next season’s premiership alone will see turn a handsome profit. This excludes all other areas of income and profit.
Worldwide coup for Thailand
For Thailand it is a spectacular international coup. It highlights one of the country’s most successful business icons and his family. Thai tycoons have bought UK Premiership clubs before and it is now not only commonplace, by almost a matter of of course, for wealthy foreign groups or billionaires to buy into the world’s hottest football market. Other parties from Thailand already own a number of significant UK clubs.
Aura of magic and fairytale around Leicester City
But Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and King Power’s involvement with Leicester stands out. It is a fairy tale come true and even more, the story is full of serendipity. One hesitates to use the word but it almost feels like magical forces are work. Even the practical and steely Claudio Ranieri dubbed by Italian media as ‘Emperor Claudio’ and self described as a ‘pragmatic man’ could not find an answer when a BBC TV asked him to explain just how leicester did it. ‘I don’t know,’ he replied twice before going to to give credit to the team. He later praised the character and spirit of the team
Sleepy UK city awakes with 5000/1 Premiership victory
Amid the celebrations of Leicester’s mazing 5000/1 victory this week many of the UK city’s citizens and observers have noted that it was seen as a city asleep and without focus before this. Leicester had been seen as in decline along with the UK’s manufacturing industry and a population shift to bigger UK cities and London. The city, with a population of only 330,000, is the most multicultural in the UK with many emigrants settling there. The famous local newspaper in Leicester is the Leicester Mercury. This week it was selling souvenir editions with a one word Champions headline while in February it also reported that one of Leicester’s streets, the Narborough Road, was the most diverse in the UK with shops from 22 different countries. The city is only one hour from London by train. This seems to have changed since 2015 and the rebirth of Leicester City FC.
King Power and Leicester’s accent as King’s Of England
In 2015 Leicester were bottom of the Premiership and virtually certain of relegation. Around this time another significant event was taking place in Leicester. A skeleton had been unearthed in excavations on a car park near the City’s cathedral in what used to be an old friary church in 2012.
The remains were later confirmed as those of the last Plantagenet King of England Richard III killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in the final act of England’s war of the Roses. There followed a remarkable exercise in DNA testing and even a scientific reproduction of the head of Richard III. The striking result was uncannily similar to medieval portraits. The story caught the imagination of people in England and around the world.
The formal interment of the old King’s body at the main cathedral In Leicester on March 26th 2015 seem to stir a sense of pride in the city of Leicester. It gave it a focus point and not least a popular new tourist attraction which has already seen 90,000 new tourist visitors to the city. But it also coincides with a dramatic improvement in Leicester City FC’s form. It felt like a switch had been turned on somewhere. The team began to win almost as consistently as it had previously lost. The revival, under then manager Nigel Pearson, saw them stave off relegation.
It did not go without mention from Leicester City fans that the team’s stadium, main sponsor and company associated with his owner was called ‘King Power’. It is also noteworthy that the Leicester City badge bears a fox emerging from a rose. A picture of Richard III was even erected at the King Power Stadium and the story has already become part of the legend of the 2015/2016 Premiership champions.
The city’s dynamic Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby confirmed the symbiotic relationship this week: ‘There is an increasing self-confidence about this city. Richard III and the football have enormously accelerated that,’ he said.
The Thai Buddhist Monk within the King Power Stadium
In Thailand, a Thai monk who really knows little or nothing at all about even the rules of football is seen by many as a key player in Leicester’s amazing success. The monk is a regular visitor to the King Power Stadium for important matches. At the start of the season he gave each member of the team a combination of lucky Thai amulets.
Chao Khun Thongchai was invited by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the club’s Thai owner, to bless the King Power stadium when he first purchased the club in 2010. His association with the club grew from there. Sensitive to the fact that the players come from different religious persuasions, the monk explained to the media this week that it was a matter of confidence building within the team. The Leicester team have been singled out all year for their ‘fearless’ quality. The monk was brought in to conduct blessings for the players sometimes conducted in the players dressing room. Chao Khun Thongchai says that he has a close spiritual connection with the team, now Premiership champions.
‘Buddha room’ at Leicester’s football HQ
The monk revealed that he makes frequent trips to Leicester when the club is playing at home. Leicester City’s owners have even installed a ‘Buddha room’ within the King Power stadium. Chao Khun Thongchai says that he does not watch the team playing but retreats to the sanctuary of the room in order to meditate and ‘send my positive energy to all the players’. He gets a response. ‘I don’t need to watch the game to know that they win, since I can feel the strong vibrations from the cheering crowd. That’s when I know that they have won,’ he says.
Bangkok monk’s secret talisman: ‘Never lose’
The monks from Wat Traimit in Bangkok told an interviewer from the BBC this week that Leicester owner Vichai has confidence in him. He has also said that he doesn’t believe that his efforts are the key to the team’s success but rather Vicahi’s character, his management of the club and off course the team itself and the coach Claudio Ranieri. ‘My blessings, amulets, and other types of holy objects are just there to boost their confidence. I can’t say that it’s all because of me; I have to say that the confidence did make a big difference,’ he told a Bangkok Post reporter during the week. ‘All Leicester players are in good health, unlike other team that have struggled with injury.’
But there is still more in the monk’s arsenal to help Leicester City. It is reported that he has created a fabric talisman that has aided the Leicester City squad. The talisman features Khmer script on gold fabric. The object is called ‘Never lose’. One has been given to each of the Leicester City players.
Serendipity and football fairytale at many levels
There is no doubt that many see the Leicester title winners as team. But it also has its stars. One of these is Jamie Vardy, the top goal scorer in the 2015/16 season and recently named ‘Footballer of the Year’ by UK football writers. One local in Leicester points out that Vardy’s career is somewhat similar to that Leicester City. Born on a housing estate in Sheffield the Leicester star of the 2015/206 season ow can be seen driving his Bentley with personal registration Vardy 9 around the Leicester. ‘It’s an inspiration to the younger folk out there, he could be any of time,’ the Leicester resident said. And there is a lot of truth in that. Vardy played for non league clubs until he was 25 and once had to wear an electronic tag following a court conviction for assault.
Another star of the Leicester team is its goal keeper Kasper Schmeichel. The Dane and son of legendary Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, has found himself winning his first Premiership medal at 29 years of age. Coincidentally the same age as his father when he won his first medal with Manchester United.
The club’s manager and coach arrived at Leicester in what was a controversial appointment after his tenue as Greek national team manager ended in failure with a Euro 2016 qualifier which resulted in defeat to the Faroe Islands. Claudio Ranieri is 64 years of age, the same age as the Thai Buddhist monk Chao Khun Thongchai called in by the club’s Thai owners to give help build team confidence.
Leicester – the new big team in Thailand
The sight on the world TV news screens of blue shirted Leicester fans enjoying almost continuous free parties in Bangkok put on by the King Power company did wonders to advertise the international appeal of the UK’s Premiership which is unmatched worldwide.
The sight of enthusiastic Thai people mingling with expats and foreigners also showed the world a positive picture of Thailand. One of those at the parties during the week is a native of Loughborough, a well know town in Leicestershire. Clive Nagington was as enthusiastic as any of those attending dressed in blue shirts and waving scarfs. Clive has worked in Thailand as an English teacher for twelve years and could not contain his euphoria. ‘This is beyond my wildest dreams!’ he said. ‘To qualify for the Champions League is an achievement in itself. But to win the Premier League is absolute heaven!’
Thailand has become a very important country for Premiership football teams as Thais have embraced the sport in huge numbers. Up to now the big clubs have been Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City with Arsenal and Chelsea also in the running. The sponsorship of Tottenham Hotspur by a Thai insurance company and the long running sponsorship of Everton’s team kit y popular Thai beer Chang shows Thailand’s influence.
Speaking to an international news publication, Jirat Prasertsuk from Chiang Mai is a big Premiership fan. ‘I used to support Manchester United,’ he says, explaining that he loved the style of football in the Ferguson era. He pointed out that before the emergence of Leicester this season many Thai supports had been behind Manchester City because former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin had once been an owner. ‘Now, I think everyone will start following Leicester,’ he says.