Leicester City: Sea of flowers & wreaths

King Power Stadium main concourse is covered in flowers, wreaths and other tributes to the man who turned Leicester’s wildest dreams into reality.

‘It could not feel more different,’ said Andrew Hulley, the club chaplain who was here on Sunday to offer his support to the thousands of fans who came to pay their respects.

‘When we won the title it was a night of unrestrained revelry; a sense of jubilation across the whole city, but walking to the stadium this morning I felt this tingle down my spine.

‘All these people are here. All this traffic. And yet there is this hushed atmosphere, this silence. People can’t believe it.’

Fairytales are not supposed to end like this. Not with the sound of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s helicopter plummeting to the ground and bursting into flames, claiming the lives of the five poor souls on board.

Graham Chadwick, the long-serving Sportsmail photographer who began his career taking pictures for this football club, was walking to his car when he realised there was a problem.

‘We’ve become used to seeing the chairman’s helicopter rising above the stadium, turning and heading south towards London,’ he said.

‘There are actually normally two of them. One comes in after the other to take people away. They climb into the sky, turn 180 degrees and fly off over the back of the stadium.

‘But this time it kept spinning, and the sound of the engine wasn’t right. There was clearly something seriously wrong. I just saw the nose drop and the tail rise up before it fell towards the ground and out of sight. Then I heard the crash, and a few seconds later I saw the fireball, this inferno.’

Graham took out his camera and ran back towards the stadium. He was struck by the acrid smell of aviation fuel, the thick smog, the heat.

By Sunday all that remained, as Graham’s pictures revealed, was the mangled wreckage of an aircraft now shorn of its Leicester blue bodywork, with the cabin in which those on board perished covered by a green tarpaulin.

Only a few hundred yards away supporters continued to gather at the front of the north stand, a crowd that perfectly reflected the cultural diversity of the city and this club’s support.

All day and into the night they came and went, some with their families, some with their mates, some just on their own. Two burly guys climbed out of a cab armed only with a bunch of flowers that they added to a floral shrine expanding at such a rate stewards had to keep moving the steel railings. Many fans stood in quiet reflection. Some cried.

‘I think the scene here today is a reciprocation of the owner as a family man,’ said Hulley. ‘The fans feel they are part of a family here and that is the word I keep hearing people use today.’

Inside the hotel that is opposite the stadium, another group had assembled. They were the boys who belong to the Thai International Academy that was formed by Vichai back in 2015.

Often from poor backgrounds, these lads are given an education at a boarding school in Leicestershire as well as the opportunity to train alongside Jamie Vardy, Kasper Schmeichel and their colleagues at the club training ground.

On Sunday we saw them being addressed by the head of the scheme, a Thai who is known to the boys simply as ‘Master’. ‘I was telling them about the chairman; about his story,’ he explained afterwards.

‘Some of these boys are playing for the junior national teams in Thailand. It was the chairman’s dream to one day see these boys develop and help Thailand to play in a World Cup.’

The boys eventually joined the supporters in paying their respects, no doubt with a sense of sorrow as well as uncertainty.

Quite what this means for Leicester City Football Club remains to be seen, but Vichai wanted to build on the legacy of that remarkable Premier League title triumph, committing close to £100million on a new training ground and the same again on increasing the capacity of the King Power Stadium to 40,000.

The owner’s son, known simply as Top, would seem the natural successor, having already been appointed chief executive officer of the parent company two years ago.

But staff have no idea if this Thai family will even want to maintain such close links to a football club that has suddenly become the scene of this terrible tragedy.

Sunday was indescribably difficult for all of them. The head of communications always operates with a calm professionalism but he wore a haunted look as he tried to provide updates without even being able to confirm, for most of the day, if his boss was actually dead.

For now all Leicester can do is take things one day at a time. Club chaplain Hulley, who offers support to those from all faiths as well as non-believers, spent time with the players on Saturday night and he said he will visit them at the training ground on Monday.

With Tuesday’s Carabao Cup fixture against Southampton likely to be postponed, their next home game will probably be against Burnley on November 10, a game that now takes place in the absence of the man who made Leicester fans’ dreams come true.