by Jamie Whitehead

It was one of those moments when the world just…stopped. Sat in the park watching my daughter play with her friends before bidding them fair well for the Easter Holidays my phone informed me I had an email.

As I opened my email to the 3for3 podcast account I saw that we’d had one of our Tweets retweeted. Curiosity got the better of me and I had a look at which of our pearls of wisdom had been shared with the world. And then I saw it

“Best wishes to Stylian Petrov from all at 3for3”

This was the first I’d heard of it.

After doing a quick search I saw the words “Acute Leukaemia”

And the world just stopped.

In what has already been a season drenched in tragedy, the news of Petrov’s illness came just a few short hours after Fabrice Muamba tweeted a picture of himself sat up and smiling in his hospital bed. Two young athletes playing at the highest level of football suddenly staring at an uncertain future. It didn’t seem right. It didn’t seem real. It didn’t seem fair.

The Summer of 2006 was a pretty bleak time to be a supporter of Aston Villa. Had Ellis not sacked O’Leary when he had, I suspect the 2006/07 season would have culminated in a relegation battle the club would ultimately have lost. But, cue the arrival of Martin O’Neill and the (still) fantastically named Randy Lerner and it all suddenly looked a lot brighter. As it said inside the shirt ‘Proud History. Bright future’

O’Neill had a great relationship with Petrov at Celtic. So much so that Petrov became O’Neill’s first signing as Aston Villa manager. Signing a foreign player with an exotic name was something of a luxury for us. And he hit the ground running. Making his debut in a 1-1 draw at the Boleyn Ground, the shadow was completely removed from him as Tevez and Mascherano also made debuts that day. He slotted in straight away, bossing the midfield almost capping his debut with a goal which was cruelly cleared off the line.

Players come and go from clubs all the time, it’s the nature of the beast. But Stan is different. Stan is one of us.

Part of Petrov’s popularity comes from his attitude towards Villa’s games. Never afraid to take a risk, always willing to give it his all. It was this attitude that made him the natural successor to the captaincy following the retirement of Martin Laursen. A decision which bought few complaints from Villa’s Holte End.

In the wake of Fabrice Muamba’s collapse at White Hart Lane, Bolton’s next game, ironically against Villa, was postponed. Arrangements were already being put in place to call off Villa’s game with Chelsea this weekend. The game is going ahead at Petrov’s insistence.

And that sums him up in entirely. He’s our captain. He’s our leader. And in a time of unexpected heartache, he’s still leading us. The latest word from the club is that Stan will be at the game today. Cheering a Villa team in desperate need of a win.

If you’re going to Villa Park today there’s going to be a minute’s applause for him in the nineteenth minute. Fittingly, supporters from Villa and Chelsea are taking part. An appropriate tribute to a player widely regarded as one of the game’s good guys.

When Villa gave away their shirt sponsorship to Acorns, a local children’s hospice the official website ran several features of players going to visit terminally ill children. Stan was always there. Posing for pictures, having a kickabout and donating footballs and match worn shirts, often giving out of his own pocket. It showed the measure of the man. A true role model and a true hero.

We’re all rooting for you, Stan. You’re strong. You’re a leader, and a fighter. You inspired a Villa side to its first win at Old Trafford in twenty six years. You led Aston Villa to Wembley twice in a matter of weeks. You scored from the halfway line against Derby in a 6-0 away win. You’ve led the line through almost two years of managerial turmoil. You can beat this. I know you can.

As someone who has stood on the Holte End through the good and the bad times, I can only really echo the words I’ve shouted a thousand times.

“Go on, Stan”

Get Well Soon Stiliyan