BANGKOK – Tucked in the Chinatown area of Bangkok is a Buddhist temple that has turned overnight into a venerated site for Leicester City’s fans, at least the ones in Thailand.
After all, it was the chief monk of that temple who some months ago had predicted that the team, which was a 5,000-1 outsider at the start of the season, would win the English Premier League title.
The prediction came true on Monday night, and by Tuesday morning fans were flocking to the Golden Buddha temple, hoping to get their hands on Leicester City banners blessed by the monk, Phra Prommangkalachan, who is revered by the club’s Thai owners.
But no banners were for sale, the monk’s assistant, Korpsin Uiamsa-ard, told the throngs of disappointed fans.
“I never believed in blessings until now,” said Ling Prakorpvoon, 51, who came from the neighboring province of Chonburi for the blessed banner. “He (the monk) is incredible. Leicester never won and now this miracle.”
Premier League football is popular among Thais, but many are fans of better-known teams such as Manchester United or Chelsea.
“The odds (of Leicester winning the title) were quite low. I am a follower of the monk himself and I think he is magical and holy,” said Songwit Suwannaram, who has been the monk’s follower for more than 10 years. “I so badly want the Leicester banner now because this just happened.”
In fact, only a few such banners exist, said Korpsin, wearing Leicester City’s dark blue jersey. He showed The Associated Press one of them – a rectangular yellow silk cloth with blue tassels and the club’s fox emblem emblazoned on it. The fox is surrounded by Buddhist religious symbols.
Korpsin said the banners will not be sold but will be given to people chosen by Prommangkalachan.
“At the start of the year, if I had forced someone to take the Leicester team banner, no one would have touched it. Who would’ve thought?” he said in an interview in a small room in the sprawling temple complex not far from the city’s main train station.
The monk came into prominence when Thailand’s King Power duty free company, owned by billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, bought Leicester City six years ago. Vichai is a devotee of Prommangkalachan and got him to bless the team.
The monk himself was not available for an interview but in an interview with Thailand’s Spring News cable TV channel in March, Prommangkalachan said that when he traveled to England the first time to give the blessings he realized there were “no meditations or blessings related to football.”
“I scoured through all my books and manual, for anything that could be used to bless a football team. But there was no football in ancient times,” he said. However, “I found blessings for war, which is similar to football games… It seemed the most fitting for the situation, so I used this.”
Vichai has also flown several monks from the temple – its Thai name is Wat Traimitr Withayaram – to England to bless the team, the King Power stadium in Leicester City, and also to lead spiritual sessions for the players.
Prommangkalachan said Leicester’s success has less to do with his blessings than with Vichai’s karma, or the results of a person’s actions. “Not just his karma. So many people played a part in this success,” he said. “All I helped to do is to make our home, the stadium, a holy ground.”
The temple plans to give gold amulets, blessed by Prommangkalachan, to each of the club’s players. The unblessed amulets are sold in the temple’s shop for about $1,700. Korpsin said two bigger amulets are reserved for Vichai and the team coach Claudio Ranieri, probably valued at about $5,000.
Even the young disciples who live and work at the temple are now fans of Leicester City, said Korpsin. “They all used to be Manchester United or Liverpool fans.”
Now they wear the team’s dark blue jerseys as they sweep leaves off the temple grounds and carry on other chores.
And at night? “They all transform – they wear Leicester’s white away-game jerseys and chant its name while watching the game,” said Korpsin.