Empathy

October 29, 2018

 

​It’s hard being a football club chairman or owner. An utterly thankless task - the first to be blamed, the last to be praised.

 

Our current positive relationship with Stewart, Charlie and Juan is, in part, based on them not being the last bloke and I’m sure, in the future, there’ll be moments when they will be classed as mean or naive, too pally or too distant. There’s no getting it right.

 

That’s why Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was such an enigma. Universally liked by fans, players and staff of not just Leicester, but all clubs. A genuinely nice guy and good businessman who bought in to Leicester as an opportunity to further his business, not as a lifelong fan. Even when changing the stadium’s name, he still managed to keep the fans on board by discussing expansion, player recruitment and club development as part of the change.

 

He put a team in place on and off the pitch to ensure that development and, in 2016, faster than anyone could have hoped for, Leicester fans got to live the dream. And ‘the boss’ was called for by the fans to go on to the pitch and receive their praise and love. He was front and centre on the open top bus - not because he pushed himself there but because he was wanted, a part of the Leicester team and community, a billionaire from Thailand with, previously, no links to the area.

 

It’s only a year and a half ago that Sunderland fans shared in a beer and cake to mark his birthday when we played at the King Power last April. I marvelled that day at the club he had rebuilt and dreamed of a day someone might do the same for us.

 

Perhaps that is why I find it so easy to empathise with the Leicester fans at this terrible time. They had the owner who managed to get it right. Who managed to keep his popularity while applying business rules, made tough decisions and, most importantly, delivered on the pitch.

 

I’m sure I speak for all Sunderland fans when I say, Leicester, we are sorry for your loss. He was part of your football family and achieved the impossible - he was a chairman who was frequently praised and very rarely blamed.

 

Of course, no matter how passionately we feel on match days and how much we’d like to have the success Leicester have recently had, it’s just a game and far more important than the above is that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was a human being, a man with a large extended family and we push football to one side to extend our thoughts and best wishes to them and all of the families affected by this tragedy.

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At the back end of the 1980s, football fanzines began to sweep the country and in 1989 we were presented with a new vehicle on which to enjoy some of this ride – A Love Supreme. ALS was a place we could all go to celebrate and commiserate being a Sunderland fan. Win, lose or draw, the pages of the fanzine became solace for many of us as we stumbled our way through our day to day lives, punctuated by the ups and downs of more match days than any of us care to remember.

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