It can be a cruel world sometimes; the bad people not getting what they deserve, the good people not getting what they deserve.
Stiliyan Petrov is one of those ‘good people’. The sad news broke Friday lunchtime that the Aston Villa captain had been diagnosed with acute leukaemia, shocking the world of football.
It was a matter of minutes after the announcement that the UK and the world were talking about it, leaving messages of support for the Bulgarian midfielder, who as well as Villa captains his national side, on social networking sites, #prayforpetrov becoming one of the top UK trends on Twitter.
The following day, Petrov’s club Aston Villa hosted Chelsea in the Barclays Premier League with the news still very raw to many a supporter. I went along, despite me being a fan of rivals Birmingham City. As an autograph collector I had intentions of going to Villa Park that day anyway, although not to see the game. However once the news was announced I wanted to show my own support to Stan, as he is affectionately known at Villa.
It was an emotional day in B6. An improved attendance at the ground paid tribute to Stan in a number of ways. Fans produced banners, shirts with messages of their love and support for their captain, and in return the captain showed his love for the club by firstly insisting the game go ahead in the first place, but also being there too.
I had heard rumours on Twitter that morning that he would be there, however these rumours weren’t confirmed to me, sat in the Holte End, till minutes before kick-off. Stadium announcer of the day Jack Woodward informed nearly 35,000 of us present that Petrov was too, to which applause and chanting of “One Stiliyan Petrov” was muting an emotional statement being read by Stan in which he told: “With the help and love of my family, my team-mates, all of my friends in football, Aston Villa and all of the fans, I am sure I will beat this illness and I am determined to do this.”
It must have been different for me, someone who was there as a neutral really, compared to the Aston Villa fans who adore him, but I was still incredibly moved by the tributes made to Stan on Saturday. Most notably the ovation and applause, planned again on Twitter, in the 19th minute of the game – 19 being the number Petrov wears for Villa. Again chants of Stan’s name went around all four stands. It was a very touching moment, one I will never forget as a football fan.
I found myself willing Villa to a result, which isn’t something I usually do! You could see the players in claret and blue really did want to win for Stan. I left the match a tad disappointed they couldn’t hold on for at least a point.
It was also very pleasant to see that, despite continued criticism of manager Alex McLeish, not one fan (where I was sitting anyway) booed him, or his players, or made any calls for his sacking. Saturday was about one man only.
Players of both sides wore t-shirts during the warm-up with messages of support for Petrov, and upon scoring the equaliser at 2-2, Eric Lichaj carved the number 19 into the Villa Park turf (which you can see here http://goo.gl/czX9s). Lichaj also told that Stan had been into the dressing room prior to kick-off to help motivate the side.
If being there, both in the crowd and in the dressing room before the game wasn’t enough to show what a great man Stan is, during the half-time activities he also donated £1500 out of his own pocket to charity.
Support from all over the footballing globe has come in for Petrov. His namesake and national teammate, Martin celebrated a goal for Bolton with the message “Be strong Stan” on his shirt and the supporters of former clubs Celtic and CSKA Sofia followed suit of Villa by applauding during the 19th minute of their weekend matches.
On my hunt for autographs in the last couple of years I’ve met many an Aston Villa player, however Petrov wasn’t one of them. I do know he is loved by so many associated with Villa though; a player who very much loves the club and its fans, who always fight for results; a true leader.
I know that his mental attributes on the football field will stand in good stead for Petrov, who begins treatment today (Monday) and although a difficult battle for the 32 year-old lies ahead, I am confident, like against many a football team he’s played over his career, he will come out of this victorious.
I’d like to take the opportunity to personally wish Stan all the best with his treatment. He’s a true gentleman, both on and off the pitch and I among many, many others hope he makes a full recovery, and is one day leading out an Aston Villa side again.