Garlands greet Leicester as triumphant Thai tour kicks off

Bangkok (AFP) –


Scores of Thai fans mobbed newly crowned English Premier League champions Leicester City as they landed in Bangkok on Wednesday morning for a tour to the homeland of their billionaire owner.

Manager Claudio Ranieri, captain Wes Morgan and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel led the team -- who arrived without star forwards Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez -- through a media scrum at Thailand's main airport.

After receiving flower garlands and doing a choreographed Thai bow or "wai" for the cameras the players were led to their bus which was surrounded by raucous set of fans chanting "Leicester City, Leicester City".

Thailand has fallen for the once little-known champions with local football fans keen to jump on the remarkable success story of the "Siamese Foxes" with deep links to the kingdom.

The club are owned by duty-free billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, whose King Power brand is emblazoned across the shirts of the team whose home ground in the English Midlands is named the King Power Stadium.

Most Thais knew little about the one-time minnows, from the city 90 miles (145 kilometres) north of London, before Vichai bought the club in 2010.

But Thais are readily changing -- or at least doubling-up -- their allegiances from perennial English favourites Manchester United and Liverpool in step with Leicester's stunning rise.

It was not clear if Vardy and Mahrez will join the club on the two-day promotional tour, which the club are hoping will banish memories of a sex scandal that marred last year's visit.

Then, three young players including the son of former manager Nigel Pearson, were sacked after a racially charged sex tape featuring local women was leaked to British media.

Manager Pearson was quietly dismissed over the summer paving the way for the avuncular Italian Ranieri to take charge ahead of a season that has made sporting history.

Leicester were 5,000-1 outsiders to win the title at the start of their campaign.

The team will carry out two days of press and publicity duties in Thailand before heading off for a "private trip" to a Thai island, according to a King Power source, who did not want to be named.