Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel led his team-mates in paying tribute to “dedicated and passionate” owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who was killed in a helicopter crash outside King Power Stadium on Saturday.
Schmeichel wrote an open letter to the owner in which he expressed his admiration for him “as a leader, as a father and as a man”.
“It is difficult to put into words how much you have meant to this football club and to the city of Leicester,” he added.
England internationals Jamie Vardy, Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell were among the other Foxes players to pay tribute.
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Srivaddhanaprabha, two members of his staff – Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare – pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz, herself a pilot, died when the aircraft crashed at about 20:30 BST on Saturday.
Witnesses said the helicopter just cleared King Power Stadium before it spiralled out of control and crashed in a fireball.
A book of condolence will be opened at King Power Stadium from Tuesday morning and the team’s next fixture against Southampton in the EFL Cup, which was scheduled for Tuesday evening, has been postponed.
Many of Leicester’s players referred to Srivaddhanaprabha as ‘The Boss’.
“I cannot believe this is happening. I am so totally devastated and heartbroken. I just cannot believe what I saw last night. It just doesn’t seem real!” added Schmeichel, who reportedly stayed at the club’s ground until 01:00 BST on Sunday.
“It is difficult to put into words how much you have meant to this football club and to the city of Leicester. We all know about the investment in the football club you and your family have made. But this is about so much more.
“You cared so deeply for not just the club but for the entire community. Your endless contribution to Leicester’s hospitals and charities will never be forgotten. You went above and beyond in every aspect.”
Srivaddhanaprabha bought Leicester in 2010 for £39m, cleared their debts and saw the club win promotion to the top flight four years later. They then beat odds of 5000-1 to claim the Premier League title in 2015-16 in one of the greatest sporting stories of all time.
“You changed football. Forever!” Schmeichel added. “You gave hope to everyone that the impossible was possible, not just to our fans but to fans all over the world in any sport!”
England defender Maguire, meanwhile, described the owner as a “truly great, kind, loving man”.
“Words can’t describe how I feel,” Maguire wrote on Twitter.
“I will never forget the chairman’s support, not only during my time [at] LCFC but also during the World Cup,”
Fellow City defender and England left-back Chilwell said Srivaddhanaprabha was “one of the best people you could wish to meet”.
Writing on Twitter, he added: “He has brought us all together. So now we must stay together as a city and achieve what he knew we could.”
Vardy, whose goals were so important to the club on their unlikely march to the league title, said: “Struggling to find the right words, but to me you are a legend, an incredible man who had the biggest heart, the soul of Leicester City Football Club.
“Thank you for everything you did for me, my family and our club. I will truly miss you, may you rest in peace.”
Wes Morgan, captain of the title-winning side, said he was “absolutely heartbroken and devastated”.
“You were a great person who cared so much about our club, city and everything which came with it,” tweeted Wales midfielder Andy King, who has been at Leicester for 12 years. “Thank you for enabling us to make our dreams a reality and I hope you were as proud of your club as we were of you.”
“You made mine and everyone else’s dream come true,” added Foxes full-back Danny Simpson.
Winger Demarai Gray said Srivaddhanaprabha was “a generous, kind man who always had a smile on his face”.
Forward James Maddison, who joined in the summer said: “Devastated and heartbroken at the news that no one survived the helicopter crash yesterday. Life isn’t fair sometimes.”
‘A great loss to English football’
Clubs around the UK and Europe have also been paying their respects to Srivaddhanaprabha.
Liverpool owners John W Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon have issued joint statement, saying: “Vichai is a great loss not just to his club but to the Premier League and English football as a whole.
“Srivaddhanaprabha was the ultimate custodian for the club he bought and then gracefully served.
“The Premier League title win, one of world football’s all-time great stories, is of course the standout achievement. But beyond that, he led his club in a manner which all of us in this privileged position aspire to. Success on the pitch, allied with outstanding governance off it.”
Liverpool and Egypt winger Mohamed Salah called it “a truly sad day for football”.
Snooker’s world number one and Leicester fan Mark Selby was playing in China but said: “Mentally I wasn’t there, my head was elsewhere because of what happened at the football club. It was a tough day.”
Selby said of Srivaddhanaprabha: “He’s done wonders for the club, he’s put Leicester on the map as well. I was fortunate enough to meet him a fair few times, he put me in the directors’ box on the day we won the Premier League and I had dinner with him which was fantastic.
“He was a great, great guy and I just want to send my condolences to his family and everyone at Leicester.”
Sports minister Tracey Crouch wrote on Twitter: “Such desperately sad news. My thoughts this morning are with the families and friends of those who died but also the whole of the Leicester City family.
“The grief stricken words of players and fans says it all. He was clearly well liked and will be sorely missed.”