The only team to vote against PPV: How Leicester City became the fans’ club
November 3, 2018, was an incredibly emotional day for Leicester City, as they played their first match since the death of their chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
Before kick-off, it wasn’t just the starting XI who stood around the centre circle, they were joined by the club’s entire playing and coaching staff.
The fans, who were occupying one corner of the Cardiff City Stadium, stood in solidarity behind them, wearing shirts and scarves bearing Vichai’s face or messages about the man they had come to love so dearly.
When Demarai Gray scored the game’s only goal he ripped off his shirt to reveal a message that read ‘For Khun Vichai’ before running to the supporters.
After the game, by which time all of the Cardiff fans had left, was when the club’s bond with its supporters became apparent for all to see. The players applauded those in the stands, who sang songs in memory of the man who had bought their club in 2010.
This is not an article about Vichai, but it is impossible to look at the bond Leicester as a club has with their fans without honing in on the man who was so central to establishing the Foxes in their current form.
Leicester and their supporters have had a lot to endure and enjoy in recent years: relegation to the third tier in 2008, going straight back up the season after, Yann Kermorgant’s failed Panenka getting them knocked out of the play-offs in 2010, the madness of Anthony Knockaert and Troy Deeney in 2012, promotion the following year, the great escape, the Premier League’s most incredible title win and the European adventures that followed.
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These on-pitch events make it inevitable that fans will constantly be on tenterhooks, but David Bevan, author of The Unbelievables: The remarkable rise of Leicester City, suggests how important Vichai has been for the feel of the club.
“It was the close bond that he formed with individual fans like myself and the city of Leicester as a whole, not just through his character or the way he treated the football club,” Bevan says.
“A lot of it was the effort he made to donate large amounts of money to the university and the hospital in Leicester.”
There has also been investment in the Foxes Foundation, which was named after Vichai following his death, and club’s community projects reflect a desire to make a real difference to the local area. Vichai, followed by his son Top, have also made smaller gestures that make a big impact.
“On Christmas, they buy every single fan in the ground a mince pie, they get every single fan a pint before the game, they get every single fan a doughnut, they get us a Christmas hat,” says journalist Charlie Carmichael, also a Leicester fan.
“Whatever it was, there are little token gestures that really show you that they genuinely care about the fans and we’re a big part of the club.”
The difference between the Foxes’ attitude and those of other Premier League clubs was there for all to see when Leicester took a solitary stand against the controversial introduction of pay-per-view fixtures this season, which has subsequently been scrapped following an angry backlash. Leicester had been originally outvoted 19-1.
“Things like that show the club’s hierarchy want to do things the right way and they have got the fans in mind as well,” Bevan says. “They’ve got a certain kind of classiness in the way they do things.”
Carmichael also nods to Arsenal making 55 non-playing staff redundant before spending big to bring in Thomas Partey and keep Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while Liverpool were ready to furlough their staff but then paid £41million to sign Diogo Jota from Wolves.
“In those situations, the sentiment kind of loses any sense of feeling and emotion when you see the actions speaking louder than the words,” Bevan says. “Whereas with Leicester you really do feel like when they say something they mean it, and they back that up continually with actions.”
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Signs suggest Top is doing all he can to continue his dad’s legacy, which is further accentuated by the £100million training centre Brendan Rodgers’ side will soon be moving into.
With those behind the scenes playing their part to keep the fans on board, it is important that those on the pitch also do their job; no amount of doughnuts or kind gestures can make up for a team that loses every week.
Despite a loss of form towards the end of last season, the Foxes secured Europa League football and now sit top of the Premier League table during the international break.
To add the cherry on the cake, not only is Leicester’s squad full of high-quality players, plenty are extremely likeable and relatable for supporters.
This often comes easily with academy products, with the likes of Harvey Barnes, Hamza Choudhury and Luke Thomas all thriving, but there are many other popular players, with Jamie Vardy perhaps the best example of them all.
“Vardy is the embodiment of a fan on the pitch when he goes on,” Bevan says. “He plays with a certain amount more quality, but the same kind of enthusiasm that you would want to put in if you suddenly got the chance to run out there yourself.”
James Maddison is another who has earned a place in the hearts of supporters and has shown plenty of affection in return.
“ what a finish “ on the skippers goal against Sevilla & “we need fans back man” in case you were wondering 😂 https://t.co/jE41vKKSUd
— James Maddison (@Madders10) November 6, 2020
Given the way of the world in 2020, it would be easy for fans to feel completely disconnected to their club, especially for those who are regular match-goers.
That feeling is inevitable as packed out stadiums are replaced by a television screen in the living room with relatives, housemates, your partner or even on your own.
“The owners have done what they can,” Carmichael says. “They’ve obviously put on games where possible, they’ve still encouraged fans to get behind the team through their email marketing and stuff like that, to watch and to be very active on social media.
“As much as you can really be involved in the current climate they’ve tried to encourage that.”
While the bond between club and fans is clearly secure, there is always something that can be improved. Yet the fact both Carmichael and Bevan both need a long think before they are able to come up with any answer at all about what should be done next is a sign that the owners, staff and players are on the right track.
Finally, Carmichael suggests improvements which come as a continuation of what is already being done: potentially offering deals on shirts around Christmas and eventually building on the consultancy that is already done to reach the point where supporters can have an active say in measures taken.
Bevan sums up the feeling pretty well: “The connection between the owners and the fans is on the whole really good, we’re playing well, we’ve recruited well recently.
“I don’t think you’d find many Leicester fans who would be asking for huge amounts more from the owners. We’re pretty happy with our lot and grateful.”
As football fans in 2020 go, that’s a good place to be.
By Danny Lewis