‘I Would Not Be Who I Am Today Without Celtic’

The route to finding courage always includes a passage through dread. Stiliyan Petrov, dad, brother, son, football survivor, and player, has experienced this journey, from a youth phobia, through the studies of the innocent abroad, to the awful onset of possibly fatal leukemia. It really is thus an almost loaded question when Petrov is asked: ‘How are you?

The answer is brisk, upbeat. Petrov, at 39, is doing just fine six years after he was identified as having the illness. The Petrov story is garlanded with glory, from ten trophies at Celtic to the captaincy of the Bulgarian international side. But it is also shrouded by experiences which have tested his mind and body to the limit.

On September 7, 2013, Petrov performed in a testimonial for his base before a loaded stadium. It was emotional, overwhelming, after everything I went through,’ says Petrov. I have been locked into a medical center room. I couldn’t see many people for a calendar year. 5, I needed to be insulated from people.

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Then, on that day I needed to step out before 60,000 people. I cannot explain the sensation. About a minute being by itself – maybe only really viewing ten people over 18 months – another in front of an enormous crowd, 45 kilos overweight.’ He laughs at the memory space but factors to its transfer immediately. I used to be apprehensive but experienced I needed to visit and play out. Be brave. It had been very hard to keep myself together. It was an important day for me, but also for everyone who fight illness,’ he says. This courage had to be earned.

The earliest victory over fear was achieved in Montana, Bulgaria, when the years as a child phobia about the blustery local winds was dispelled with a belief’s healer and an unusual ceremony including a handbag of bullets being swirled over his head. Petrov restricts himself to a laconic: ‘It proved helpful.’ Another test was moving from Bulgaria to Glasgow in 1999. ‘It was a defining second,’ he says. Without that, Today I would not be who I am.

It opened my eyes from what I call real soccer. It was not just about playing, and learning but about how exactly fans can love a club. It was about passion.’ But, first, it was about conquering the fear and keeping on simply. In his autobiography, Petrov tells of fleeing to Glasgow Airport as his first, turbulent season was coming to an end, convinced he should abandon the club he had joined for £2.8million. To this day, 19 years on, he is uncertain what persuaded him to stay.

But he did. And prospered. It’s difficult when you come from abroad,’ he says. But I performed in a period when people had additional time for younger players. Now it is different. It is all results, success, plus they need not await you. He cites those who helped him settle in Glasgow.

Tommy Burns was a huge influence. Mark Burchill was and is an excellent friend – and Mark Viduka and Lubo Moravcik could speak the same vocabulary. Others such as Paul Lambert saw how difficult it was for me personally, so they attempted to combine me into the team. However, Petrov alone was initially confused and, prompting his famous venture into hamburger sales. Yes, I did work in a vehicle,’ he says, referring to a spell working in the streets of north Glasgow. I had a need to. I didn’t speak a term of English.

I understood that if I wanted to become part of the team, get near to the players, know very well what was going on at the club I quickly had to learn the language. I had a pal who had the burger van and he helped me. It helped me on how to handle money also, how to be polite and how to be not so polite. His fortunes transformed. He became an important part of the aspect, winning four little league titles, three Scottish Cups, and three League Cups – also reaching the UEFA Cup last in Seville. It was an unbelievable time and we achieved a complete lot, not just in titles and cup finals however in coming together as a team.