It was poignant and emotional at Leicester City’s first match since owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha died in a helicopter crash.
The tears shed by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel summed up the mood as a huge banner — a Thai flag with “RIP Vichai” and the Leicester badge — was unfurled before the English Premier League football match at Cardiff.
Somehow, though, Schmeichel and his teammates managed to put their collective grief to one side to focus on the football for 90 minutes and grind out a 1-0 victory.
The players and officials then flew out to Bangkok for Vichai’s funeral services, which the BBC reports they will attend on Sunday and Monday.
The elaborate, royally sponsored funeral for Vichai began on Saturday at a Bangkok temple, with attendees including top Government officials, businessmen and other public figures.
Mourners included Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, Somyot Poompanmoung, the president of the Thai Football Association, and Thai business magnate Dhanin Chearavanont, chairman of Charoen Pokphand Group.
Saturday marked the first ceremony, with others scheduled through to November 9.
Banners, floral tributes and a minute’s silence
Before the game in Cardiff, two large banners were pushed around the ground by both sets of fans.
Floral tributes were laid on the pitch as the teams and coaching staff gathered in the centre circle for a minute’s silence for Vichai, one of five victims last Saturday of the crash outside the club’s King Power Stadium.
Leicester then gathered in a huddle for Schmeichel’s team talk and, whatever emotive words he used, they worked as Demarai Gray scored the only goal with a low finish in the 55th minute.
Gray celebrated by removing his jersey to reveal an undershirt on which was written “For Khun Vichai,” and was booked by referee Lee Probert. Schmeichel ran the length of the field to join a team celebration.
The Leicester fans sang Vichai’s name for the rest of a highly charged afternoon and, at the final whistle, the visiting players came together to embrace.
“We were very close to the chairman,” captain Wes Morgan said.
“We know what his wishes were. He used to come down at home games, have a joke and a laugh, always say, ‘Want win and three points.’ We did that today.
“It has not been an easy week, we had to try and hold our emotions in today and do the best we can. We have a very emotional connection with the fans, so we stayed till the end and celebrated victory with them.”
Schmeichel said the extra weight carried by the first match since the owner’s death had left players “exhausted”.
“That was a tough game, not just on the pitch, but mentally,” he said.
“There are a lot of exhausted people in there now but I am proud of this team and the club, the way everyone has handled themselves has been unbelievable.
“Coming out for the warm-up was tough, the first 10 minutes I couldn’t steady myself, I was shaking a little bit. But it was nice to get a win to take to Thailand now and hopefully we did his family proud.”