Buddhism, opera, free beer come together

09 May 2016 - 09:22 By PATRICK SAWER and TOM ROWLEY

Some guys have all the luck. Not content with winning the English Premier League, Leicester City's billionaire owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha promptly went out and made a cool £2.5-million (about R53.6-million) at a local casino.The Thai duty-free shops tycoon visited Leicester's Gentin Casino on Monday night, two days after his team became champions.Srivaddhanaprabha spent the evening at the card table with friends, and according to the Sun newspaper won enough to pay for all the Mercedes-Benz cars that he has promised to give to Leicester City's players to thank them for their fairy-tale 5000-1 triumph in the Premier League.He plans to offer his team a significant pay rise too, to ensure the players who produced one of sport's most incredible stories remain together.Srivaddhanaprabha, estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth £2-billion - making him Thailand's fourth-richest man, was photographed celebrating with his son Aiyawatt alongside Leicester's manager Claudio Ranieri, team captain Wes Morgan and other players on the training ground the day after securing the premiership.He has been a popular figure at the East Midlands club, both with fans - to whom he often provides free beer - and the players.The 58-year-old tycoon, who brought Buddhist monks from Thailand to bless the players and pray at a shrine in the club's King Power Stadium during several home matches, launched his duty-free chain in 1989, starting with a single shop in the centre of Bangkok.About 10 monks were flown to Britain for most home games to bless the players before kick-off, before spending the match deep in meditation in a specially designated room at the stadium.That support continues during the team's away games when the monks chant and pray for the team at their temple in Bangkok's Chinatown district, where Srivaddhanaprabha has been a devotee for several years.If pre-match strategy was tinged with Eastern mysticism, Saturday's celebrations at the King Power had a contrasting note of Italian high culture.One of the world's most famous tenors was led on to the pitch - wearing a personalised team shirt of the team known as The Foxes.When Andrea Bocelli began to sing one of the anthems of world football - Nessun Dorma - many fans dabbed their eyes with handkerchiefs.Bocelli, who has sung for popes and presidents, was performing in a mid-sized football stadium in the English East Midlands, tucked between a car dealership and a Holiday Inn. He was accompanied by his friend and fellow Italian Ranieri, who held out a hand to ask for silence as his blind compatriot sang. For the only time on the day, the fans fell quiet.Ranieri, who has managed some of the world's great football teams without ever winning a league trophy, had persuaded Bocelli to break off his world tour to perform as the sold-out crowd of 32000 took their seats to watch Leicester play Everton in their final home game of the season.As with the best operas, the fact that everyone knew what would happen (Leicester had secured the league, regardless of the result) hardly dulled the emotion. After 132 years as not so much also-rans as no-hopers, here they were: champions.Fans filed into the stadium refreshed with free beer and pizza courtesy of Srivaddhanaprabha.In the stands, families born in Leicester but now living on different continents were reunited, as were season ticket holders who began sitting next to each other years ago as strangers and have become friends during the long, long wait for victory.- ©The Sunday Telegraph

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