Players and staff from Leicester City were set to arrive in Bangkok 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.
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 very important 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
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.
Along with director of football Jon Rudkin, the other players attending are all part of the first-team squad.
They are team captain Wes Morgan, defenders Harry Maguire, Christian Fuchs and Ben Chiwell, midfielders Wilfred Ndidi, James Maddison, Marc Albrighton and Andy King.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel — who is believed to be the closest of all the Leicester players to Vichai — will also attend the funeral.
A King Power spokesman also added that Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, the daughter of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, is expected to attend Sunday’s 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.
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits by Marisa Kennedy)