The date June 23, 2016 will go down in history as the day the people of the United Kingdom voted to get out of the European Union. As the referendum made big headlines all over world, one would be forgiven to miss the announcement, done on the same day, from newly-relegated Aston Villa Football Club that their former captain was returning for pre-season training.
Surely, such news is trivial in the context of Brexit; but, is it really? This is, after all, the story of a man who came back fighting after being diagnosed with a terrible disease. This is the story of one of the greatest soccer players to come out of the Balkans whose career was so cruelly halted at its peak. This is the story of Stiliyan Petrov.
Petrov joined Aston Villa in 2006 after seven trophy-laden years north of the border with Celtic. He soon became a vital cog in Martin O’Neill’s side as the Birmingham-based side hovered just below the top four in the Premier League. In 2009, following the retirement of the injury-prone Martin Laursen, Petrov was named the side’s captain, a title he held until that fateful Arsenal game in March 2012.
Up until that point, Petrov was arguably one of Europe’s best in his position. At 32 years of age, he had already amassed 105 caps for Bulgaria and could boast of 13 major honors in his trophy cabinet. He had also managed to transform from the all-action Celtic midfielder who scored 62 league goals over 7 seasons in Scotland to the more cultured and tactically astute lynchpin in an impressive Villa side.
All this changed in March 2012 when, following a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, Petrov developed a fever. A simple blood test two days following the match showed that there was something terribly wrong going on and a few days later he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia, specifically Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL). Moreover, chemotherapy needed to start immediately.
In acute leukaemia, as opposed to the chronic form, things move at a quick pace, making it particularly ominous.
Broadly speaking, our blood contains three types of cells: red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells’ main role is to transport oxygen, while white blood cells are vital in combatting infections and other insults to the body. Platelets are central to the body’s coagulation mechanisms, i.e. the mechanisms that promote blood clotting and thus avoid bleeding and bruising.