Khun Top, you’ve seen so much in your 10 years with Leicester City, but surely nothing like this season. How will you remember it?
I think I’ll remember it with a lot of different feelings. As a team and as a Club we’ve shown amazing potential at times this season, but continue to learn important lessons that will make us stronger going forward. For a young team and a growing club surpassing people’s expectations, we have had to grow up quickly and learn to cope with being held to the new standards we continue to set for ourselves. That’s not easy, but it’s not something we should fear. It’s something to which we must adjust if we want to be sustainably successful in the long term.
Of course, the impact of COVID-19 means the season will be remembered for the absence of supporters during these final nine games, which has been a reminder, if any were needed, of the importance of fans to the passion, energy and appeal of the game. It hasn’t been the same without them.
But I’ll also remember the way those same fans have supported our efforts to reach out to communities in need. I learned quite quickly that Leicester was a special place, but the way its people have rallied around to support each other through this crisis has been incredible and we’ve been very proud to be part of that.
How significant do you expect the impact of COVID-19 to be on the Club as we move into next season and further?
There are challenges that are specific to the Club, but also challenges that football needs to address generally. The first of those, assuming it is safe to do so, is bringing supporters back into the stadiums. Premier League clubs have done an outstanding job to fulfil the remaining fixtures to complete this season, but the gradual reintroduction of supporters is crucial to Premier League football maintaining the passion that makes it so compelling. We’re encouraged by the signs for next season and are preparing a strategy for how to make the games accessible to people while building up stadium occupation.
It was always clear that such a situation was likely to affect our plans in terms of our new training ground in Seagrave and the proposed development of the King Power Stadium site, but it represents no more than a brief pause. Our resolve to deliver on those capital projects remains. The training ground is nearing completion and we intend to resume consultation on stadium expansion by the end of 2020.
It’s been a frustrating period for the Club’s Academy, with football in all age groups beneath the First Team remaining suspended, but we will have a process in place to ensure this period doesn’t adversely affect the development of our young players or their opportunities to impress and move forward on our player pathway.
Our ambitions and long-term objectives have not changed. We cannot anticipate the world’s ongoing response to the pandemic or how society will emerge from it, but the Club is a reference point for communities at home and abroad so we have to set an example and do what we feel is the right thing. We took the necessary steps early in the process to secure jobs within the organisation and to facilitate football’s return, which will hopefully have a positive impact on the associated industries that rely on its success.
All of this must, of course, be kept in perspective. This pandemic has claimed thousands of lives all over the world and the steps that have been taken to protect people’s health have been necessary. As every other business in the world, we have to prepare for its implications on our future, but that will never be at the risk of our personnel or the communities we represent.
You’ve been a regular at King Power Stadium in the last 10 years, how have you found following the games from afar in the same way our fans have?
Very difficult! There have been times in the last 10 years where I have missed games and it’s never easy to watch from afar, but to be away from the team and the Club for this period of time, particularly at such an important stage of the season, has been tough. I’m probably not much fun to be around when the games are on! But I think about the supporters who haven’t missed a home game, or even an away game, for 10, 15, 20 years or more. As hard as I have found it, it must have been so much worse for them. You see how much it means to people and it drives everyone at the Club to work harder and give that bit more. The first game back in a full stadium will be a special occasion, but we should never forget this experience and how it underlined the importance of fans to the game.
From a footballing perspective, has the break made it a difficult season to assess?
The fan in me would say yes. The Chairman in me might be a little more considered and I think that’s important. Our performances and points return during the first half of the season was beyond anything we would have expected – some extraordinary games, a level of consistency you wouldn’t expect from such a young group and a really exciting league position.
It’s been a mixed second half, as the mental and physical demands of a long season, progressing in multiple competitions, have caught up with us and a good measure of perspective would be needed for any season like that.
It’ll be 10 years since King Power’s takeover of the Club this summer. To what extent do you feel the stakes of Sunday's game demonstrated the progress the Club has made during that time?
We have said from the first day we arrived that this was about building sustainable success, investing for the long-term and putting the Club on a sound footing from which to grow. It’s the context which demonstrates that.
We’ve already achieved the Club’s two best Premier League finishes in its history in that time. We have a young, hungry and talented squad, including players that have been on the journey with us since the Championship. Our Academy remains a prolific source of talent, including several players that have become regulars in our first team. Outstanding players have arrived and continue to subscribe to the culture of our Club. Others in whom we have invested have moved on, contributing to our sustainability and power to reinvest and we have continued to move forward.
This year we will move into one of the best training facilities in Europe and we will soon be moving forward in our plans to redevelop the King Power Stadium site. Our infrastructure is better equipped now than it has ever been.
So, for me, it’s not just about the place we have reached in 10 years, but the principles that have enabled us to get there and that will enable us to stay there.
You’ve built such a special bond with the people of Leicester in the last 10 years. How important has that been to the Club’s progress?
It wouldn’t have been possible without that support. I have always believed in the power of good deeds, how they can multiply and what that can help communities to achieve. For every gesture or donation we have ever made to the people of this city, it has been met with a level of love and support we could never have imagined.
It was one of the reasons we moved quickly at the start of the pandemic to support community causes such as University Hospitals NHS Trust, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust and Age UK Leicestershire & Rutland. We’ve tried to look deeper into the community to support less prominent causes through the Gift of a Wish programme and will continue to make support available as Leicester emerges from the grip of the pandemic. For everything our communities have given the Club, both under King Power’s ownership and during the 126 years before it, it’s our duty to offer that support.
We’ve seen this week the announcement of a campaign to extend support to the people of Thailand. Can you tell us some more about Thailand Smiles With You?
It’s a project on which King Power has worked very closely with the Club and the Tourism Authority of Thailand in recent weeks, aiding the country’s recovery from the pandemic through supporting its valuable tourism industry. The Thailand Smiles With You shirt will be worn by the players throughout the 2020/21 Premier League season and provides a unique opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the Club, the city of Leicester and football fans throughout Thailand.
Just as we have tried to do in Leicester, this is an opportunity for us to make a real difference to a great number of lives in Thailand, and is made possible through the special relationship that exists between King Power, Leicester City and our supporters all over the world.
Finally, what would be your message to the Leicester City supporters, looking forward?
It can only be a message of thanks. Thank you for your support through this extraordinary season and for supporting each other through a unique period in any of our lifetimes. The support we are able to offer to communities in Leicester, Thailand and anywhere else is only possible because we have a passionate, engaged fan base that inspires the Club to keep improving, to keep growing and to keep fighting to realise our ambitions.
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