We had this piece in The Special last weekend but some of you missed it and it might work as a blog, so here you are: 

Sometimes things happen in the world of football to transcend club rivalries, results or anything else. The death of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the owner and Chairman of Leicester City last Saturday evening in a horrific helicopter accident as he and four others left the King Power Stadium is one.

I’ll be honest I didn’t really take much notice of how Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha ran Leicester City or what he has done for that club and the community around it. However, it would appear he has been an entirely positive influence upon it. No-one can deny that Leicester’s incredible 2016 Premier League win wasn’t one of the greatest football achievements of all time, particularly in a game dominated by a small cartel of clubs propped up by oligarchs and petro-dollars. It was deserved, it was fantastic and it shook the world of football out of a trough of tedious predictability.

But it appears  Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha had a lot more about him than being able to build a modest club from the East Midlands to the Champions of the Premier League. The manner in which he engaged with supporters, the community, managers and players has marked him out as a very special man.

I’ll be honest I have grown weary with football in latter years. Like many I’ve been worn down by the unhappiness of Newcastle United but looking around the game I’ve only seen stuff I just don’t like. I’ve grown suspicious at the motives of anyone who wants to own a football club. There’s a reason why as the experiences of Blackpool, Leeds, Charlton, Blackburn have demonstrated dramatically but looking at the Glazers at Man Utd, Kroenke at Arsenal, Gold/Sullivan/Brady at West Ham and probably loads more it would take too much space to list.

However, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha seemed to be different. Despite being from a different culture and tradition, Vichai embraced the community in which his football club is based and made practical and significant contributions becoming much-loved in the process. That was evident from the outpouring of affection from those around Leicester who’d grown to respect, value and admire the man.

At the risk of setting off my friends from Wearside and their desperate attempt to paint me as a Mag ghoul delighting in the death of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in order to score points off Mike Ashley, I will, as others have done, draw comparison between the two men. There are some people who can’t see the difference between scoring points and making them but as you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you’re wise enough to understand the nuance.

I’ve no interest in pretending things aren’t as they are. Like some of you reading this now, my mobile phone crackled on Saturday and Sunday morning with less than generous comments on Mike Ashley and helicopters. This happens a lot in the modern world but in the case of Ashley I’ve stood and chatted to otherwise great blokes, warm family men and women – at the match and afterwards who have expressed the wish for Ashley to be dead. Indeed, as nufc.com noted last Sunday, the words to the song “we’re having a party when Ashley sells the club” have changed to “we’re having a party when Ashley f*****g dies”. It’s pretty rough stuff but Liverpool and Celtic fans sung it for years about Thatcher and Rangers fans have some pretty unpleasant ditties about Bobby Sands. I’ve heard good people talk idly about hiring a hit man to take him out. Now all of this stuff is the kind of wild talk that comes from people who are really upset at how something they care about deeply is being treated but it does happen amongst the safety of people who know each other well. I don’t expect to see a Go Fund Me page “Whack Ashley – Donate Here” any time soon.

But the fact is Mike Ashley is the polar opposite of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. The death of the Malaysian and the fine words and dedications made to him inevitably mean a mirror is held up to Ashley (and others) and his relationship with the Newcastle United community. I asked the rhetorical question via social media whilst making a link to a tribute to Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha if anyone would find anything good to say about Ashley and his time at United in similar circumstances. That was the cue for my fan club on Wearside to affect faux outrage with two of their most smacked-arse-face fan-led websites and podcasts attempting to lead a pile on by completely misrepresenting my point.

The comparisons between Ashley and Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha don’t score points and aren’t unpleasant. What they do is highlight the potential for good those who own football clubs have within their gift and how those with the same opportunity are squandering theirs. And Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha isn’t alone even in the Premier League with Brighton and Huddersfield benefitting from decent stewardship. I’d also point to Bob Murray at Sunderland who although unable to deliver sustainable success on the pitch did provide that club with a new stadium, training ground, established its previously excellent community foundation and made generous donations to local institutions from his private wealth. His legacy lives beyond many others who have run football clubs.

Ashley has done none of this. There are others who are similar to Ashley too but clearly my focus is him for obvious reasons. Doubtless if this was a Man Utd fanzine they would be writing similarly about the Glazers, who have moved that club way beyond its North Manchester-Salford, Irish immigrant working class roots but I’m sure (I’ve had the conversations, so I know I’m right) with West Ham fans who despair at the annihilation of their club’s culture with the move away from The Boleyn. It just goes on.

So, as the Leicester City community mourn a great adopted son, we curse our luck in having Mike Ashley about which no love or affection will be expressed in these parts.

That’s a bloody shame.


 Recommended Reading: David Conn in The Guardian  Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was an unusual owner – he understood fans and Henry Winter in The Times Too few owners respect their clubs’ traditions – Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha did.