This article first appeared in the Leicester Mercury on Monday, May 17, 2021.
“Our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”
Those 13 words, printed on a large banner with a photo of Khun Vichai, caught the eyes of many Leicester City fans at Wembley Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Draped across blocks of seats in the upper tier, they perfectly sum up the culture and belief around this football club. Our football club.
Our late chairman, Khun Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, made our dreams come true. He improved the lives of so many. Not just on the pitch, but off it, too, with the charitable donations he gave to various organisations throughout our community.
The pressure to build upon his legacy made the butterflies flutter that bit harder as 155 coaches streamed down the M1 on Saturday lunchtime.
While the nerves were building, there was something about this that just felt natural. The two-metre gaps and the face masks didn’t seem significant anymore – we were there with each other. Six thousand Leicester City fans on their way to Wembley for one of the most important days in the club’s history.
Luke (right) together with fellow journalism student Tom Carter, inside Wembley Stadium
On other big days for our club, we have felt like nothing without football. But walking up Wembley Way this weekend, we all realised that football is nothing without us.
The flood of emotions walking up the stairs to our seats was enough to stop you in your tracks. The 90,000 seats, the hallowed Wembley turf, the sights and smells all around. It hooks you right back in again, just like it did the first time.
Inside the ground, it was abundantly clear – football is nothing without us. Six thousand of us, sounding closer to 60,000, roaring our team on.
Vichai Had A Dream. Abide With Me. God Save The Queen.
And then game time.
As soon as Michael Oliver blew that first whistle, it felt like we’d never been away. Scarves twirling, the smell of beer lingering from the concourse downstairs. This is what days like this are for.
Being back in a stadium, you realise you missed the things that annoyed you before. People leaving while you’re on the attack in the 44th minute to get their beer before everyone else. The old bloke behind you berating a backwards pass when the player had no other choice. It’s these little things that grind your gears, usually, but on Saturday, it felt good to have them back.
The nerves were still firmly in the pits of our stomachs as the half-time whistle blew, drawing a tense first half to a close.
As Youri Tielemans strode through the Chelsea midfield in the 63rd minute, the last of my fingernails were gone. Time stood still as he lifted his leg back. Perfect connection. Gliding through the air.
I have never, and will never, experience anything like the aftermath of that goal ever again. It was the dictionary definition of pandemonium.
Screams of relief. Of joy. The tightest and most heartful of hugs with men you’d met an hour and a half ago. From 52-year-old Charlie at the game with his wife, to 19-year-old Alex who had lost his shirt somewhere in the tier below. Football, you see, really is nothing without the fans.
Aboard Coach 75 on the way home, a small group of fans at the back were sat around a smartphone, playing clips from the afternoon’s television broadcasts for us all to hear. When Kasper Schmeichel told BBC Sport the players had a photo of Khun Vichai printed inside their shirts, so he would always be close to them, our coach fell silent.
“This is never going to happen to us again,” said one lad, his voice cracking mid-sentence. “We can’t let today pass us by. We’re the luckiest fans in the world.”