Not a soul would have blamed Stiliyan Petrov if he had taken the decision to remain hidden from the public glare after he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia.

But those who know the Aston Villa captain best realise he is a man as dignified and courageous as they come; something clearly demonstrated by his presence at Villa Park on Saturday afternoon.

Petrov could have stayed at home to contemplate the direction his life will now follow but, no, the Bulgarian took his seat in the stands to afford his club the same support he will receive from them during this troubling time.

"For me, football will have to take a back seat for a while, but I'm here to support my teammates today and I will continue to support them, as I know they will support me," he said in a statement prior to the encounter with Chelsea.

Perhaps Chelsea fans would have not begrudged Villa the victory they so craved as a tribute to their captain but, alas, there would never be any time for sentiment during the match, in which the Blues triumphed 4-2.

There was, however, a remarkable moment during the game that would have dampened the eyes of even the most hardened person in attendance as the whole ground became unified in vociferious support for the 32-year-old.

When the clock reached the 19th minute - the same number to adorn Petrov's Villa shirt - everybody inside the famous old stadium rose to their feet and applauded the popular midfielder.

Petrov was clearly incredibly humbled by such an act and, in between an attempt to hold back a flow of tears, rose from his chair to show his sincere gratitude.

Petrov will begin treament for his illness in London on Monday, and the servity of the battle he now faces cannot be underestimated.

Such cruel twists of fate and the impacts they have are felt by millions on a daily basis, but there is often the impression that professional sportspeople - who take on superhero status in the eyes of many - are immune to the realities of the lives of the ordinary.

Yet even young men in their atheltic prime are unable to prevent the causes of nature, as the cases of Petrov, Fabrice Muamba and Eric Abidal have clearly demonstrated in incredibly quick succession.

But the trio can take great comfort from the knowledge that will receive unwavering support from the 'football family' in their respective battles, while each other's ordeal will provide them with further inspiration.

Petrov has already cited the remarkable recovery of Muamba after his cardiac arrest as something that will inspire him has he embarks on a daunting journey of his own.

"I saw the picture released [on Friday] by Fabrice Muamba, my fellow player, and it has inspired me, as has all of the support in the past 24 hours," Petrov explained.

The bravery demonstrated by Petrov, Muamba and Abidal - who have lived their adult lives in the public gaze - will also serve to motivate those in the wider context, and enhances the reputation of a profession often derided.

Yet no crowd reaction so emotional or amount of tshirts emblazoned will symbols of solidarity can disguise the reality of the circumstances these courageous individuals must face.

Get well soon, 'Stan', Fabrice and Eric. We are with you every single step of the way.

Topics:
#Stiliyan Petrov
#Premier League
#Aston Villa
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