Fortunately, life and death tragedies in the world of football are very rare. Yet when they happen (a plane crashes, a stadium collapses or burns, a helicopter falls out of the sky), the devastation and grief are widespread, the impact is long-lasting, the event forever imprinted in the psyche of a community.
So it will be for the family of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, for the players, staff and fans of Leicester City and for the whole of the East Midlands town following the horrific accident after last Saturday’s Leicester v West Ham game. Our collective sympathies are with that community for their loss.
It was against Leicester City that the Seasiders opened their campaign in August 2007, on returning to the second tier after an absence of 30 years. Who remembers Keith Southern scoring that first Championship goal in our 1-0 win at the Walkers (now King Power) Stadium on that sweet summer’s day? Of course, Leicester were dropping just as Blackpool were rising. Owned at the time by Milan Mandaric, the Foxes went through six managers (including caretakers) that season, ending up with Ian Holloway in charge and relegation from the Championship.
The turnaround in their fortunes came when the club was bought by the King Power group in the summer of 2010 and Thai businessman Vichai Raksriaksorn became the new owner. A keen sportsman, Vichai founded the Thailand Polo Association, owned the VR Polo Club of Bangkok and also owned OH Leuven, a Belgian league side (of which Nigel Pearson is currently coach), but Leicester City became the outstanding success story.
He was a devout Buddhist, believing in good and bad karma and seems to have set about making good karma wherever he could. The name Srivaddhanaprabha (meaning ‘the light of auspicious prosperity’) was bestowed on him in 2013 by the king of Thailand for his services to the Thai people.
Why eulogise him in a column about Blackpool FC? It’s simple – compare and contrast with our own ‘ruling elite’.
In Leicester, Vichai not only poured his money and energies into the football club – effectively putting them on the world map when they won the Premier League in 2015/16; he was also a major benefactor of the city’s hospital and its university; and he went out of his way to connect with the community. He is on record as saying:
‘I came to the football industry with Leicester City because of my love for football and the Club and its fans have already repaid me several times over with their passion and loyalty. It is a great privilege to be the Chairman of this great Club and an accepted member of this wonderful community.’
In a footballing world where money swears and dodgy reputations abound, it is refreshing to find true humility combined with philanthropy in tandem with sporting ambition. Vichai appears to have been that very rare phenomenon, a football club owner about whom there is not a bad word to be said.
In the midst of Leicester’s grief, it may seem gratuitous to be drawing very obvious comparisons with Blackpool’s owners. However, this is not so much about knocking Owen Oyston as it is about pointing out the huge opportunity he and his family have missed. Had they shown any ambition, any imagination and any sense of the place they occupied in the Blackpool community, then 2010/11 could have been a massive springboard for them and for us. We could have established a permanent legacy in terms of status and infrastructure. The Oystons themselves could have forged a positive and lasting reputation for themselves as a family that did the right thing by the club and the community it serves. As bad karma continues to haunt them now, the fact that they failed to understand or even consider such an option will be perhaps the most shameful indictment of them of all.
Meanwhile, the EFL continue to impersonate Rip van Winkle with uncanny accuracy. It is bad enough that we reach the anniversary of the High Court judgement next week without action from them. But they knew that something was amiss as long ago as 2010/11 when the EPL ruled Owen to be not fit and proper to run a club playing in their League. It has been seven years now, surely that is long enough to come up with some kind of plan? What are doing? Too busy misleading clubs over the real financial implications of their iFollow live streaming deal perhaps.
Tuesday November 6th will be a year to the day since Justice Marcus Smith handed down his 163-page report and judgement in the Belokon v Oyston litigation. Blackpool FC plays away to Gillingham on that evening, but Blackpool Supporters’ Trust believes it is important to mark this "shabby anniversary" to highlight the continuing plight of our football club and the failure of the football authorities to acknowledge or act upon this seismic ruling. Blackpool fans, the club and the community have been let down on all sides and the Trust is determined to continue to highlight this fact until our situation is resolved.
BST has arranged for a professional photographer to take pictures of Blackpool fans holding a vigil outside the main entrance of Bloomfield Road on Tuesday evening. The continued plight of our club has received some welcome exposure in various national newspapers this week and the purpose of Tuesday night’s vigil and photoshoot is to capture an image which will highlight our plight and which will then be shared with all paper and online media, with the football authorities and national fans' groups.
Ideally we need 163 supporters to join us at 6.30pm outside the West Stand main entrance to hold up one page each of the judgment. This should not take up too much of anyone's time but we really need fans to turn up in numbers to make this a success. Bring your Oyston Out scarves, Blackpool FC scarves, Blackpool and alternative shirts and banners. There needs to be lots of tangerine on display - let's make this a powerful image!