Bangkok: Leicester City's inexorable climb up the Premier League has left many pundits scratching their heads wondering what the key to their success is. But Thai monk Phra Prommangkalachan knows at least one of those secrets: good karma. For the last three years, he and some half a dozen fellow Buddhist monks have been making regular trips to the Thai-owned club to bless the pitch and hand out lucky talismans to players.
Thai Buddhist monk Phra Prommangkalachan holding a banner emblazoned with sacred patterns surrounding Leicester City Football Club's crest as he poses for pictures at the Traimitr Withayaram Woraviharn Temple in Bangkok. Pic/AFP
"I hang some amulets on their necks and I gave them these fabric talismans," he told AFP at a temple in Bangkok, the banners emblazoned with sacred patterns and Leicester's club crest at their centre.
"I'm not sure if they understood what I explained to them about it, but they knew that it would bring them luck," he added. Currently riding high at the top of the world's most watched football league, Leicester are owned by Thai duty-free magnate Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, whose King Power brand is on the front of the club shirt.
Their rise is one of the biggest David v Goliath sporting tales in recent memory -- and a success story for Thailand, where they are dubbed the Siamese Foxes. Vichai bought the club in 2010 and after a few false starts, the team gained promotion to the Premier League at whose summit they now sit. The retail magnate's boardroom has won praise for its unflustered approach to running the club and shrewd appointments of players and managers.
But Vichai himself is notoriously publicity shy and has averred the usual fanfare of a PR campaign associated with foreign ownership of Premier League clubs. Phra Prommangkalachan says the billionaire is a devout Buddhist and a firm believer in the power of karma.
"He brought monks there to pray for auspiciousness and luck in the game, for the management team and the players," the 64-year-old monk, who said he has made at least 10 trips to the club, explained. Majority Buddhist Thailand is a country steeped in the belief that luck and good fortune come through merit making, which is accumulated through prayers, offerings, donations and good deeds.
Steady stream of visitors
The deeply superstitious culture also revels in the power of lucky charms, with amulets blessed by monks visible everywhere, often dangling from people's chests or their rearview mirrors. As AFP spoke to Phra Prommangkalachan at the white marbled temple where he is based, a steady stream of devotees came to seek his blessing and purchase amulets. His aides said he often gets visitors from China and Malaysia.
And while such customs might initially have appeared strange to the club, Phra Prommangkalachan says Leicester's players soon got used to the sight of saffron robed monks stalking the halls of the King Power Stadium. "They were glad to see the monks going there. They greeted us and joined the ceremony very well," he said "Even though we're of different religions, we are close to one another like good friends."
Five points clear of Tottenham with eight matches remaining, attention now turns to whether Leicester can keep up their table-topping form and clinch the title. Helped by the power of his amulets and talismans, Phra Prommangkalachan said he is confident the club's players have the "stamina and strong mind to play and keep fighting hard". Will Leicester win the league? "The team will be the number one in the Premier League this year for sure," he said, raising a single index finger and breaking out into a wide grin.