ALAN BIRCHENALL: Khun Vichai transformed Leicester City

ALAN BIRCHENALL: Khun Vichai transformed Leicester City – when he arrived we couldn’t afford milk

  • Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha died in helicopter crash on Saturday
  • Alan Birchenall pays tribute to ‘Khun Vichai’, who transformed the club
  • Birchenall starred for Leicester in the 1970s and is now a club ambassador

I think back to the day in 2010 that all the 4x4s rolled into the training ground. Belvoir Drive was run down, dilapidated, not much improved from my days playing in the Seventies.

We were living hand to mouth, had been in administration. I had been looking around for people to invest with no success. Then Milan Mandaric negotiated with Khun Vichai and these cars arrived. I thought, ‘Five minute wonders.’ Well, how wrong was I? From that day he transformed this football club.

When he arrived we couldn’t afford a crate of milk. Seriously. People brought their own milk in to make cups of tea. Now you are talking about splashing out £30million on a player. It is unbelievable. That’s the difference and why it is so emotional around the place. You only have to look at the tributes.

Alan Birchenall (front row, left) sits in the Leicester directors' box with Khun Vichai (far right)

Alan Birchenall (front row, left) sits in the Leicester directors’ box with Khun Vichai (far right)

Everyone in the world knows the story. It’s not Lei-chest-er any more. The players, the manager, the staff, everyone at the club contributed to winning the league and reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but it was basically down the Khun Vichai, Top, and the hierarchy. Because they gave it the means to go forwards.

Staff quadrupled. They improved the training ground a million per cent. At the stadium they upgraded the dressing rooms, the suites, the catering. Everything that could be made better was.

Lots of owners want to change club colours, or the badge. He didn’t change anything like that. What he changed was the mentality. Second best was not good enough.

When he installed blue lighting in the tunnel the hue wasn’t right initially so he whipped it out. If it wasn’t five star he wasn’t interested. He wanted his club to look and be the best. His heart and soul was into it and that’s why he was loved.

Birchenall spent six years at the club as a player and is now a club ambassador

Birchenall spent six years at the club as a player and is now a club ambassador

The mood at the training ground is sombre. That is the word. There is no way people’s heads are right to play this match that’s been cancelled.

Khun Vichai probably wondered who I was when he arrived but he began to understand I wasn’t the full shilling and our relationship grew. When I had my incident last year he made sure I was alright.

I had my license taken away because of the heart attack and while I was convalescing he agreed for my son, Dean, to be taken on as an employee to drive me places, so I could carry on doing my ambassadorial work. It was a massive thing from the club, sorted by Susan Whelan, the chief executive.

Khun Vichai was also instrumental in giving me my proudest moment. I have been to the palace for gongs and got the freedom of the Leicester – but nothing will top walking out with the Premier League trophy and putting on the plinth to give to Wes Morgan.

Players and staff mourn the death of the Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha with his son Top (centre)

Players and staff mourn the death of the Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha with his son Top (centre)

Khun Vichai wasn’t the tallest guy but he had the greatest personality and charm about him. He’d be in the club shop doing selfies, giving out beers, scarves, subsiding away support. The clappers was his idea. He wasn’t a chairman you never saw.

This football club will always owe a lot to him. His legacy will carry on. There is a new training facility that will hopefully go ahead, costing over £100m, and the stadium might be expanded.

The response from fans shows what he meant. I was at the stadium at 6.30am and people were laying flowers. The tributes will be round the whole ground soon.

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