Always loved, never forgotten.
For Chelsea supporters, hearing news of a helicopter crash outside Leicester City’s King Power Stadium sent a shiver down their collective spines.
In a single, cruel moment of tragedy Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was taken from the Foxes, their popular owner and the man under who the impossible dreams of fans became reality in 2016 as the rank outsiders won the Premier League title. A real life football fairytale.
His impact on the club and the people of Leicester has been laid bare in the tributes and anecdotes that have flooded in from those touched by his influence and generosity.
It was a shocking loss that came almost 22 years to the day since Chelsea vice chairman Matthew Harding perished in another helicopter accident after travelling back from a Coca Cola Cup tie against Bolton Wanderers.
I still remember it vividly. I heard the news on the radio when I woke up. I was in shock. How could this have happened?
I didn’t even know the man personally but I grieved for him as if he were someone I knew. For Chelsea fans, he really was one of our own.
It was Harding who had responded to an advert place by Ken Bates in 1993, then the owner of the Blues, who was looking for investment in the club.
His money fuelled a revolutionary period at Stamford Bridge that laid the foundations for the successes that were to come even before Roman Abramovich’s reign.
The businessman provided money for a new north stand that is now known as the Matthew Harding Stand in his honour – the stand in which I have taken my seat for the last 16 years.
But Harding wasn’t in the game to just finance a rebuild of a stadium. As a life-long fan of the Blues he was keen to invest in the dressing room too.
He was sadly denied the chance to see the fruits of his labours but the decisions he made over the playing staff proved to be profound.
Chelsea supporters were still reeling from the news on Saturday lunchtime that Glenn Hoddle had collapsed at the BT Sport studios when they heard about what had happened in Leicester.
The midfielder had been one of Harding’s favourite players and fate conspired to bring them together in 1993.
On the advice of the former Tottenham Hotspur playmaker, the Blues signed world class players such as Ruud Gullit and Mark Hughes.
It was a recruitment drive that would lead to the arrivals of Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Di Matteo, Marcel Desailly, Frank Le Boef and ultimately the Abramovich era.
Without Harding and Hoddle, modern Chelsea might never have come to pass. They both hold special places in the hearts of supporters for this very reason. It was on their work that five Premier League titles, the Champions League and so many other trophies were won.
It remains a point of immense regret and sadness that Matthew Harding did not live to see his team rise up to become one of the dominant forces in English football off the back of his interventions or even lift the FA Cup in 1997.
He transformed the Blues from an insular mid-table table club, merely hoping to stave off relegation and he will never be forgotten.
‘Matthew Harding’s blue and white army’ is still sung on a match day. The Chelsea fanzine cfcuk continues to be published in his memory.
In the week marking the anniversary of his untimely death, a huge banner was unfurled along the lower tier of the stand bearing his name. It read: ‘Matthew Harding Always Loved Never Forgotten’.
Fitting in more ways than one as Harding would often pay for Chelsea banners of this scale such as the ‘Pride of London’ banner unfurled at the 1994 FA Cup final.
For all these reasons and many more, Chelsea supporters will be able to remember all too well the sort of pain that Leicester City fans will be feeling in the wake of their owner’s untimely death.
We share an experience of grief and can only stand to support those affected by the tragic events after the West Ham game at the weekend.
On the face of it Matthew Harding and Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha could not be more different.
Harding inherited his passion for Chelsea from his father at the age of nine. Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was seduced by Leicester City while watching the Coca Cola Cup final where Leicester City beat Middlesbrough 1-0.
Harding never lived to see the success that his money brought Chelsea. Srivaddhanaprabha was instrumental in sending Leicester City to the Premier League title in 2016 and the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
But what united them is a common bond stronger than these contrasts – the love they poured into their respective clubs and the supporters who follow them.
Anyone who has watched the outpouring of emotion outside the King Power Stadium cannot help but be deeply moved as the shrine to Srivaddhanaprabha grows by the day with every flower placed in his memory.
For the fans and the people of Leicester, the Thai billionaire was one of them. He was merely a supporter with the resources to put his hand into his pocket and make wishes come true.
He embraced his adopted club and adopted city and they embraced him back. The connection was warm, genuine and real.
Matthew Harding would walk to the stadium and sit with the supporters at Stamford Bridge, as he had done for most of his life. He would enjoy a few pints of Guinness and chat with supporters in the Imperial Pub in Kings Road before the match. He was Chelsea through and through.
At a time when modern football attracts too many rapacious owners looking to make a quick return on their investment with little to no affinity or respect for the unique traditions and culture of the club, Srivaddhanaprabha’s death is a huge loss to all football supporter
For Leicester City fans, it won’t feel like it now, but in time the pain will recede and the club will move forward, building on the contributions made by their late owner to the team.
In recognition for what he gave to them and their club, I’m sure the Leicester City supporters will soon honour Vichai in the same way that Chelsea supporters honour Matthew Harding to this day.
But now, it is a time for them to mourn the loss of a great football man whose name will live long in both the history books and the hearts of fans.
I’m sure all Chelsea supporters will join me in offering deepest sympathy and condolences to Leicester City supporters on the tragic death of their owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, and the families and friends of all those who lost their lives in the accident on Saturday.
David Chidgey @StamfordChidge
David Chidgey is currently Chairman of the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust and presents the award winning Chelsea FanCast podcast which can be heard live every Monday at 19.00 at mixlr.com/chelsea-fancast/ and every Friday at 19.00 on lovesportradio.com or downloaded from Acast, ITunes, Soundcloud or chelseafancast.com @ChelseaFanCast