‘Football can take the pain away but there is still a lot of grief to come for the Leicester boys’: Kevin Hitchcock recalls playing just four days after Chelsea chief Matthew Harding died in a tragic helicopter crash
- Matthew Harding was killed in a helicopter crash like Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha
- The Leicester owner and four others sadly passed away on Saturday evening
- Kevin Hitchcock and Chelsea played Tottenham four days after Harding’s death
- The former goalkeeper believes Leicester’s players have a lot of grieving to do
- Hitchcock thinks getting back to playing could help them deal with the tragedy
The helicopter accident that claimed the lives of Leicester chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha – and four passengers and crew on board – has chilling echoes of the tragedy that took former Chelsea supremo Matthew Harding’s life in October 1996.
Like Srivaddhanaprabha, the then Blues vice-chairman was travelling back from a Chelsea fixture – a League Cup tie in Bolton – when the helicopter he was travelling on crashed due to bad weather.
Goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock played against Bolton that night before discovering the following morning about the heartbreaking news of Harding’s death.
Hitchcock, who made over 100 appearances for Chelsea, spoke to Sportsmail’s Sami Mokbel about the overwhelming grief that engulfed Stamford Bridge after Harding’s shock death.
Chelsea vice-chairman Matthew Harding died in tragic helicopter crash back in October 1996
I wish I could say it’ll get easier for the Leicester boys but, unfortunately, this is just the beginning.
There is still a lot of pain and grief to come. Matthew’s funeral was about a week later and I just remember that being so incredibly sad. They’ve still got all that to come.
Players will deal with it differently; but I found throwing myself into football helped massively.
First thing I felt when I heard the news about the helicopter crash in Leicester was de ja vu; I’ve seen this before.
The similarities between the two incidents are spooky. Matthew was such a people person, so too was Srivaddhanaprabha.
Dennis Wise, Kevin Hitchcock and Steve Clarke (L-R) carry a floral tribute to Harding before their win against Tottenham just four days after his death
Striker Jamie Vardy and wife Rebekah lay a wreath in memory of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha
I know Kasper Schmeichel well and to read his words were heartbreaking.
Back in 1996 there was no video cameras or social media so I didn’t find out until the following morning because we were travelling back from Bolton.
I got a phone call from Capital Radio asking me to speak about it. Shock, complete and utter shock. We were all trying to find out how it happened.
Your first thought was his family. I had a young family at the time I couldn’t comprehend what they were going through.
As an individual it didn’t register, there was a numbness. You just think everything is going to be okay.
I remember we played just four days later, a big London derby against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.
There were floral tributes, scarves and messages left at Stamford Bridge after Harding’s death
Fans have been paying tribute to those killed in the crash outside the King Power Stadium
The atmosphere was so emotional. I remember we came out of the tunnel to lay a wreath and put it by the stand where Matthew used to sit in.
I remember the tears vividly, you can’t contain those emotions. People see us as footballers, but above all else we are human beings – we have the same feelings.
But weirdly, once you started the game – just for 90 minutes – you forget about it. You focus on the game, you focus on winning the football match, which we did 3-1.
If I remember correctly, my team-mate David Lee broke his leg in the game. In the heat of the moment, your thoughts switch immediately to your team-mate.
Leicester chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was among five killed in Saturday’s accident
Harding’s wife Ruth was at the ground for the Tottenham match, four days after the accident
Football can take the pain away. Everyone has things going on in their lives but football can help you escape, even for a little while.
In the days immediately after, the training ground was so subdued. Normally Harlington was the best place to be, it’s usually buzzing.
But in the aftermath of the accident the training ground was so quiet. People were just keeping themselves to themselves.
But in those days, football was vastly different – we were just expected to deal with it.
There were metal fences put up for fans to tie scarves to and leave their own mark of respect
Nowadays football clubs are packed full of staff who can help – even if it’s the club chaplain.
Footballers can be selfish people at times, in times like these you have to do what’s best for you.
Eventually, though, Matthew’s death galvanised the club. We wanted to do the best we could for Matthew.
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