WIGAN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25: Mohamed Diame of Wigan Athletic is chased by Carlos Cuellar of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa at DW Stadium on February 25, 2012 in Wigan, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
It's been a few days now since the news about Stiliyan Petrov's illness was announced. It's still extremely difficult to process what has happened here. Most of us are relatively young and most of us are in much worse physical condition than Stan Petrov. We drink. We smoke. We eat red meat. We might have our minor aches and pains or non-life threatening conditions. But to hear a man in the prime of his life as a world class athlete has leukemia is difficult to understand. By every account Stiliyan Petrov is a good person. He's a great friend and a leader. So many people have said wonderful things about him. So why has this happened to him and not me? It's not only scary because this man is the captain of our favorite football club but it's scary because it reminds us of our own mortality - something I spend my waking hours trying to distract myself from.
The tributes to Petrov poured in over the weekend. They started, of course, at Villa Park. The game against Chelsea went on as scheduled because Petrov insisted. That's the kind of person he is. At the 19th minute of the match, the crowd rose and cheered for the entire sixty seconds while Petrov himself acknowledged his fans with his wife by his side. it was both incredibly moving and at the same time surreal to see the same man who had been involved in one of the most elite athletic competitions in the world just one week earlier now relegated to the stands as he gets ready to battle leukemia.
Fellow Bulgarian and close friend Martin Petrov of Bolton scored this weekend and revealed underneath his shirt the message we've been repeating all weekend: Be Strong Stan. For an idea of just how much Stan means to him, he didn't even want to take the field - only doing so at Stan's insistence. Stan's first club, CSKA Sofia had a 19th minute ovation for him as well. Glasgow Celtic, who still loves Stan and fondly remembers all of his contributions seemed to take the news almost as hard as Villa fans did. They produced a half time tribute to him on the big screen. Former Aston Villa and current Manchester United star Ashley Young scored just this afternoon and after his goal went over to the nearest camera and said "that's for you Petrov". If anyone still harbors ill feelings toward Ashley Young, it's probably time to put those to bed.
But perhaps the most touching and heartbreaking story came out today in the Sun where it was revealed that the entire Aston Villa team had heart tests done after Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the field just a couple of weeks ago. Carlos Cuellar discussed the news in a Spanish paper and his words brought tears back to my eyes as I'm sure they did for most of you. Cuellar is deeply beloved by Villa fans everywhere not only for his contributions on the pitch but because he's a friendly, well-liked guy who puts a positive spin on everything. This is no different.
"Last week we were still affected by the situation of Fabrice Muamba - it affected us mentally and psychologically.
"So imagine if it is one of your intimate friends, a comrade with whom you've shared a dressing room for four years.
"My team-mates and I are deeply affected and very emotional but Stiliyan is the first to give us strength, trying to lift us so that we win as many games and points as we can.
"It's the only thing he asked of us."
Cuellar also revealed that Petrov still SINGS to him on the phone, a sign the brave Bulgarian is full of belief he will win his fight against illness.
Spanish defender Cuellar, 30, said: "He always sings a song to me 'Carlos Cuellar you make me happy'.
"Yesterday he surprised me because, when I called, he responded and started singing that song.
"It relaxes you and it shows he will win this fight because he's a brave man with a lot of strength."
The idea that Stan began singing "Carlos Cuellar you make me happy" on the phone despite just finding out he has leukemia is almost enough to rip my heart out of my chest. The thing is, I honestly believe that Carlos Cuellar does make him happy. I think Carlos makes everyone happy. And with friends, teammates and fans behind him I think Stan Petrov is going to beat this damned disease and I think he's going to win handily. I hope Aston Villa fans traveling to Liverpool this weekend and at every Villa match for the remainder of the season will take time to sing "Carlos Cuellar you make me happy". If it's any help at all to Stan in this difficult time, it's the very least we can do.