Newly crowned Premier League champions Leicester City received a royal seal of approval on Thursday at Bangkok’s Grand Palace, with the Thai-owned team presenting its trophy to a portrait of the king before a bus parade through the capital.
The East Midlands team is currently visiting the football-mad Southeast Asian nation as part of a publicity blitz after its fairytale title triumph.
Day two of the tour focused on Thailand’s top institution with a visit to the sprawling Bangkok palace complex of the revered but ailing 88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has been hospitalised for most of the last two years.
Local television showed billionaire club-owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, alongside his son Aiyawatt and manager Claudio Ranieri, presenting the trophy to a portrait of the king as they and the team then took a deep bow.
The team later went on an open-top bus parade through the capital’s notoriously gridlocked streets that were briefly cleared of traffic thanks to a police escort.
In scorching conditions -- with the mercury hovering around 37C (98F) -- key players including captain Wes Morgan and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel waved Thai flags and snapped pictures of each other on their phones as crowds cheered them on.
Vichai’s King Power brand, a duty free monopoly that has made him a billionaire and is emblazoned on both Leicester’s shirts and its stadium, ensured the start of the parade route was filled with employees -- including a group of cheerleaders -- decked out in team colours.
But thousands of fans and curious bystanders also lined the route, which wound its way from a King Power-owned shopping and hotel complex through Bangkok’s downtown commercial district.
Most Thais knew little about the one-time minnows before Vichai bought the club in 2010.
But many locals are readily changing -- or at least doubling-up -- their allegiances from perennial English favourites like Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, clubs that are much more commonplace on advertising billboards across the kingdom.
Ben, a 27-year-old worker in a 7/11 store along the parade route, was one of those who stopped to watch the bus pass by.
“I am a fan of Liverpool but I am happy to see football stars from UK,” he told AFP. “It’s not often we can see football stars in Bangkok.”
Photos from the palace visit showed the team kneeling in front of Bhumibol’s portrait.
It has become common practice for subjects to sit on the floor or kneel to avoid being higher than the king.
Thai athletes often present their medals and trophies at the palace as a way to show respect.
Vichai has brought some of the kingdom’s traditions to Leicester City, with Buddhist monks regularly flown out to bless players and the stadium.
During their title celebrations at the King Power stadium, a portrait of Bhumibol was held aloft as players like Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater revelled in their remarkable league success.
King Bhumibol, the world’s longest serving monarch, is the object of an intense personality cult and his frail health is a subject of significant public concern.
He is also protected by one of the world’s most draconian royal defamation laws, making debate about the royal family’s role inside Thailand all but impossible.
Under junta rule in the last two years, use of the lese majeste law has skyrocketed with some transgressors jailed for more than 20 years.
Not all Bangkok’s citizens, many of whom have to endure agonisingly long daily commutes, were happy with the rush hour road closures.
“Do you have to do a parade, isn’t winning enough?” wrote one user of Pantip, a popular Thai social media forum, before adding “God bless Man U”.