They queued patiently, nudging closer to the tent containing the book of condolence. Many wore tops displaying the image of their late owner and the words “The Boss”. Some were carrying wreaths, though there were already flowers aplenty at the shrine. They went back row after row, sitting beneath a portrait of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. One of the shirts hanging from the fence in Car Park E read to “To our King, RIP” and he looked a monarch, mourned by his people.
The Leicester folk were sombre and respectful, the mood of quiet contemplation, but they were not alone. A Newcastle United supporter carried a banner that read “football unites”. “It is a strange thing about rivalry and fans and football,” said Burnley manager Sean Dyche. “There are things that are bigger than that.”
There was every conceivable Leicester kit – home and away, adult and child, goalkeeper and outfield, plus the celebratory T-shirts – in a wall of shirts but they were joined by those from Sheffield United, Exeter City, Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, Hinckley and the rugby-playing Leicester Tigers.
This was where, two weeks earlier, the Leicester’s owner’s final helicopter flight had met its tragic end. “Forever in our hearts,” read the message inside the King Power Stadium. He will be forever in their view, too, with the club announcing plans to erect a statue to Srivaddhanaprabha.
The tributes took many forms. The injured Harry Maguire joined in the “Walk for Vichai” with thousands of fans, some of them Burnley supporters. The directors’ box contained Claudio Ranieri and Craig Shakespeare, Nigel Pearson and Martin O’Neill, former managers appearing to pay their respects, and drawing nostalgic chants from the supporters’ songbook. A video of Srivaddhanaprabha ended with a loud refrain of “Vichai,” from the home faithful, many waving scarves reading “Mr Chairman”. His name was a constant refrain thereafter and there was a particularly loud ovation after an hour for a man whose life was curtailed at 60.
The programme contained the thoughts of Leicester’s past and present. “The best person to have been at Leicester,” insisted Riyad Mahrez. “Under Khun Vichai, everybody loved Leicester,” declared Esteban Cambiasso. “The reaction has been unreal,” said Jamie Vardy.
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The first game back at the King Power Stadium was not normal. Leicester had beaten Cardiff City, but that was in Wales. A match at the scene of a crash Kasper Schmeichel witnessed was understandably emotional. It concluded with Leicester luminaries congregating in the centre circle, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha wiping tears away after an illustration of how much his late father meant to so many. “It was a communion with our fans,” said manager Claude Puel.
It was a day when Leicester got everything right bar, understandably, the outcome. Burnley were respectful visitors, laying a wreath on Friday, and obdurate opponents.
“One of the hardest games I have ever played,” said Marc Albrighton. “The lads are emotionally drained.” They had visited Thailand for the funeral but, their build-up disrupted but, Puel said: “The players compensated with desire.” Vardy had a shot cleared off the line by Matt Lowton. Rachid Ghezzal headed against the bar. Joe Hart denied Demarai Gray but a breakthrough proved elusive.
“I was proud of the players’ performance,” Puel added. “I hope we can continue this response to honour our chairman. We need to have his dreams in our head. It was a special day.”
“The best thing is it has reminded everyone that underneath the gloss, the glamour and the winning, is that a club is part of a community,” added Dyche.
And so it showed on a lap of honour, the Leicester family applauding one another to a soundtrack of Time To Say Goodbye. Which Leicester did, and beautifully.