Fan Blog: Smith - Leukaemia hasn't stopped me living Villa dream!
24th Oct 2013
My Villa story began in 1997. After years of involvement in the sport in the United States, based in Birmingham, Alabama, I decided to be very deliberate about selecting a team in the Premier League.
I chose Villa for three reasons - consistent inclusion in the top flight, Dwight Yorke - who I admired from World Cup qualifying - and finally, the fact that Villa and I were both from a Birmingham.
By the way, that other club was never considered!
My wife is a lovely and devoted soul, evidenced by her tolerance of me at all, much less my passion for a team that most Alabamians have never heard of... poor, misguided souls.
Then came other connections.
Of course, fellow American Randy Lerner bought the club. And, also Stiliyan Petrov was diagnosed with leukaemia just a few months after I was.
I had always dreamed of visiting the UK to see my beloved team but I had never owned a passport. That was until the diagnosis when the trip was put into active planning. That was put into fast-forward when I developed pneumonia earlier this year and my health declined quickly.
My next phase is chemotherapy so I elected to drink in the claret and blue ethos before the treatment started.
As luck would have it, I was shocked when I opened my local paper and saw a picture of General Krulak and learned he had accepted the position of President of a College in Birmingham, Alabama, close-by.
I wrote to the General just to ask for suggestions about how to plan the trip - and what was organised for me blew my mind. To cut a long story short, the gracious hospitality of Villa took over.
Last weekend, Paul Faulkner gave my wife and me a private tour of Bodymoor Heath where we met with Paul Lambert.It was an emotional experience being in the training facility of my heroes and one that will stay with me forever.
We then watched the Tottenham match from Directors. We met a veritable who's who of Villa, including Doug Ellis before one of the staff pulled us from our table to "meet someone."
We went to another hospitality box and #19 himself - Stiliyan Petrov - stood up, smiled - and we gave each other a big hug.
We talked football, Villa, and leukaemia and even exchanged contact information.
He gave me a shirt with my name and his signature on it. What a treasure!!!! I have no words to describe how much this gift means to me. I have tears in my eyes again, trying to explain that moment.
I can't possibly convey how proud I am to be a Villan. This club is led by utter class. We come from a place known for southern hospitality, but Villa has taught us about hospitality. My wife has never been a football fan, and may never be, but she loves Villa, the General, Paul Faulkner, Paul Lambert, Karen Croft, Stan Petrov, and a dozen others, because of their amazing warmth and kindness.We even bought her a shirt of her own! The best of Villa is the people!
This week we are tourists in Scotland, which has strong, strong links with Villa from the early days, while on Saturday we'll be in the famous Holte End. Words cannot describe my excitement.
By the way, when we toured Bodymoor Heath we met Paul Lambert, a man I could tell has strong morals and a burning desire for success.
To the best of my honest recollection, this is what was said. "It's an honour to meet you.I've never travelled outside the United States and the only real reason I would is to see Villa play.I'm here with cancer to see a match because it's on my bucket list.
"I want to see a Villa win in Villa Park before I die. So it's really important that you win one of these next two home matches. But no pressure, no pressure at all." And then I winked.
He chuckled and said: "We'll do our best."
So I'm expecting the lads to give it their all against Everton!
Although, I am kicking myself.I should have told him it was my dream to see Villa win twice at home!!!
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