Back Stan in Celtic Park charity match

Friday 6th September 2013 8:28

Stiliyan Petrov: #19 Legends charity match is at Celtic Park on Sunday

Stiliyan Petrov: #19 Legends charity match is at Celtic Park on Sunday

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Aston Villa FanZoner Tom Davis looks back at the career of Stiliyan Petrov ahead of the #19 Legends charity match at Celtic Park on Sunday.

Sir Alex Ferguson, David Beckham and Jamie Carragher were just a few of the high-profile retirements in the game at the end of last season, but none were more poignant than Stiliyan Petrov's.

In an era of footballers lavished in wealth and bad publicity, the refreshing nature of his professionalism on the pitch and affable character of it captured the hearts of fans and neutrals alike.

Stan's acute leukaemia is now in remission and the legacy of his charity - and the fixture held at Celtic Park on Sunday in a bid to raise funds - is fitting for the type of man he is.

It seems life has always thrown obstacles in his path, but he's always found a way to overcome them.

Fresh-faced and just 19 at the time of his arrival at Celtic, he struggled to adapt his new home and his lack of English only heightened that problem. The solution? Serving at a friend's burger van.

"I had to communicate with people ordering food," he told The Independent in 2006. "Some of the customers used to stare, thinking, 'that looks like Stiliyan Petrov, but it can't be!'"

Once the lingo was settled, things didn't turn out too badly for him in Glasgow in the end. In amongst trophies and titles, he built a knack for scoring goals (a fantastic return of a goal every 4.8 games).

"A superb goal-to-game ratio for any midfield player," admitted Brummie Bhoy from a Celtic fan-site. "But it was in O'Neill's first derby fixture that he scored his most important goal.

"He fired in one of three goals in the first 11 minutes of the game that eventually saw Celtic win 6-2 and reverse the position of domination in Glasgow." His legend status was soon to be assured.

But in 2006, shortly after his arrival at Villa Park, he then faced another problem - this time with the then-manager of Bulgaria, Hristo Stoichkov. Incidentally, the same man Petrov idolised in his youth.

Captaining his country with Stoichkov at the helm was then a dream pairing, surely? But a sensational international retirement followed after he fell out with his childhood hero over a difference of opinion.

The fall-out wouldn't last long - animosity is not in his nature. He returned just five months later after making up and went on to become the country's most capped player in history. That's some remedy.

Back in claret and blue; his first season wasn't the most fruitful. Similar to Celtic, at first he struggled but eventually he found his rhythm, securing his place with fans after that goal the following season.

"He's gone for it, he's found the net - that is a special, special goal," reports Guy Mowbray, after a stunning half-volley against Derby from 50-yards out became the furthest goal by a Villa player.

But his most productive goals return with us came in his final season during the reign of Alex McLeish, which is perhaps surprising given his general lack of ascendency in attack.

3,000 away fans saw Stan spur us on to our first win at Stamford Bridge for nine years, ghosting past their defence after a pass had unerringly found his feet, rifling it past Petr Cech from eight-yards out.

That was to be his final ever goal in football after a check-up from club doctor Richard Lovell just months later revealed his illness. But, in the only way Stan knows, he has fought it with great vigour.

So now, as the dust to the record-breaking transfer window settles, Stan quietly prepares for Sunday as he returns to Glasgow with a host of good friends, familiar faces and loving supporters.

Be it his legend status with Celtic, inspiration as captain with Villa or a national icon in Bulgaria - there wasn't much Petrov didn't achieve. Just being there for Sunday however, beats them all.

You can follow Tom on Twitter at @tomdav1991 - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too!

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