Dedication, sacrifice, aspiration, achievement - these were the imperatives of Stiliyan Petrov's career before illness intervened.
A year ago Villa's captain was diagnosed with acute leukaemia and he has fought a personal, courageous, overwhelming and inspiring battle ever since.
The uplifting news is that he is coming through, scarred but unbowed and, with his leukaemia in remission, he has recently finished the tortuous bouts of intensive, chemotherapy treatment, news he was delighted to relate on this visit to Villa's Bodymoor Heath Training Ground
Q] Stan, it's good to see you back here at Bodymoor. It's always good to see you back here, what are your thoughts as you sit here today?
A] Thank you, great to see you as well. It was great to come and see the boys today. I have finished all of the high intensity treatment and from now on I'll be on the softer treatment, which is two years on tablets. It was a very, very long year but now, after all this treatment, I can go back to a normal life. I can start doing things that I couldn't do in the last year. I can take the kids to school, I can come here, I can start doing a bit of work and losing a little bit of weight, I might go on Bobby's diet and see how that works for me! It's been a long year for me and the support from all the fans, from the club, from the players, has been amazing. I've been saying that every time I have had the chance to say a few words but I'm glad that this hard year is behind me now and I can concentrate on getting back to my life.
Q] To reach this point must be fantastic for you and your family?
A] When it happened I knew what kind of disease it was but I didn't know anything about what kind of treatment it was. I didn't know how long it would go on for, what would happen and things like that. While the treatment was going on I was surprised how long things were dragging on, it kept dragging and I kept thinking 'when is this going to finish?' but with a lot of patience and a lot of support from family and friends and everybody I managed to pull through. I had my hard moments but I had good moments as well. I can say I'm lucky because some people with this disease will die very quickly and I managed to keep battling and still be here, still standing. It's really good, that's a great thing.
Q] When you look back on when you were first told, it must put a lot of things in perspective. What did you think about when you were first told? Did you know a lot about the disease?
A] At the start I thought it was just a cold, nothing serious but just something normal. When I was told what exactly the diagnosis was I was a little bit shocked but I accepted it and just wanted to start the treatment straight away. I had a doctor called Dr. Lovell, Richard Lovell, who knew that sometimes you need to let people know what is the matter quickly. He did that and he said that I needed to start treatment straight away. I knew that I couldn't waste time so I had to make decisions very quickly. You need to think straight and stay calm. I managed to do that because at the end of the day it's something that you need to approach very seriously. I did it and I made a decision about when my treatment would get started and who would treat me, how things are going to go and so on. I made these decisions quite quickly because I needed to.
Q] You had a lot of support to lean on from family, friends and people at the club and fans. That must have resonated a lot with you?
A] Yeah, the 19th minute has been just incredible. It's just showing their appreciation and their support. I don't know how I can thank the fans because it's been incredible. Sometimes I have a joke with some friends when they text me saying, 'You've still got that applause in the 19th minute, when are they going to stop?!' But it's been incredible. I've got a great wife, a strong, great wife and she's been unbelievable, incredible in this journey. The kids as well, my mom and dad, my brother, my wife's mum, they've all been so strong and close beside me. Other friends as well, I can't start naming names because there are so many, they've been so supportive every single day. To have support every single day from people who have their own problems and their own life but they keep finding the time to send you a message or call you, it's just unbelievable.
Q] Describe what it means to you, all of the support you've received.
A] You can't really explain, it's just incredible and showing me the appreciation and amount of support the fans are giving me. A lot of people, a lot of sportsmen have been diagnosed with conditions such as mine and they haven't really had the opportunity to receive the kind of encouragement and support that I have. It's really deep down and I always say that some people go through these diseases fighting on their own while I have the support of millions around the world, especially Villa fans and Celtic fans and the fans of Bulgaria as well. I haven't really managed to do an interview in Bulgaria yet to say thanks but that will come as well. It's just incredible.
Q] The support for you has transcended club tribal lines with every club in the Premier League paying tribute and all of football behind you and the Support Stan rallying cry. You wanted to be able, through this illness, to do something positive and it must be gratifying that you're able to do that?
A] It's really funny how something like this can unite people. It's a strange feeling but people from all sides have been united and even teams who come to Villa Park, their fans have joined in the minute's applause as well. It's great to see something like that. I hope everyone can appreciate how important it is that if something were to go wrong for a player or a fan that they can give them support the way they've supported me. I'm hoping to open my foundation soon and I'm going to start raising money and awareness for leukaemia and different charities and I'm in the process of doing this at the moment. I hope to start as soon as possible.
Q] One of the things that people say at Acorns, the club's official charity, they always ask about you because you were always making sure your teammates were there. That must be meaningful to you as well, to touch their lives like this?
A] Throughout my life I've always been supportive about charities, I've helped my own charities and things like that. It's always good to help people but when you find yourself in a situation like that, you see even more how much you need to help and I'm going to try and do that.
Q] Has it kind of kicked in with you yet that you're through an awful lot of the bad times with this illness?
A] Yes. It's a long treatment and I'm in remission now which is very good. The tests are coming back good which is very good to hear but with this kind of disease it takes time, you need to wait to say you're clear and things like that. I don't think about it, I take each step at a time. I was taking every cycle at a time, it was hard and it was tough but I knew that it was going to pass and I need to be patient and that everything would go back to normal. I managed to do that but without the help of my closest people I probably never would have done it.
Q] Whenever you're here at Bodymoor you're always one of the most positive people around.
A] I think it's about belief. Villa are in a position at the moment where people say we are fighting relegation. We are, but so what? You need to believe that you are going to be out of that situation. The boys have been showing that, they've been showing great character. They're a very young team but they've been showing they can compete at that level and they want to stay at that level. Yeah, the season has gone this way, but they haven't put their heads down. They've kept fighting, they've kept fighting and the last several weeks they've played with great confidence and have picked up a lot of important points. They have a manager who I know very closely, he's a good friend as well and I know how important it is for his team to improve and to win as well. These are positive things.
Q] The team are performing well and fighting and everyone at the club will be delighted that you'll be there every step of the way.
A] Yes, I was there at the game against Fulham and I've come to a lot of games this season when I've had the chance. I needed to have clearance from the doctors to go around crowded areas, so I constantly needed to be feeling well in order for me to be around people. In was really impressed by the performance against Fulham because the boys kept going right until the last minute. There are still a lot of games to come, a lot of points to be picked up, so there's nothing to worry about.
Q] The manager has spoken recently about you and when he heard the news of your condition and calling you while he was on the Norwich team coach. He also spoke about the young Stiliyan Petrov coming over from Bulgaria to Celtic, what do you recall of that time?
When I was young life was taking over me - nightclubs, the good life - but I left Bulgaria and I went to Scotland, I went to a great club and I've managed to meet great team-mates who showed me the right way, to play football and to be professional as well. Paul Lambert was one of them. When I went there, there was him and Tom Boyd, they were the most experienced players there and they showed me the way I need to live my life, look after myself and be professional, so I could play at a high level. That's why I always appreciate these people because when you have a chance to work with this level of professional people you become something like them.
Q] You're going to be at some of the games over the remainder of the season, you're looking forward to this?
A] Yeah of course, I love coming to the games, watching the game, seeing the players, seeing the fans and things like that, it's great. I'll be there for every game until the end of the season and it will be great to see the boys putting in performances like that have been for the past couple of weeks.
Q] We're really touched and delighted to hear from you in this sort of form and to hear you say that you've come through the worst of it now. To be sitting here today must be…
It's a great relief. You can try to explain to people but they probably won't understand. Only people who have been through it and the closest people will know what you've been through. It's a great relief and I'm going to live my life. Sometimes people feel sorry for you and things like that. I'm not going to be like that, I'm just going to keep going and try to start picking up some work now and then, things that I want to do and I'll think about what this will be. First of all I'm going to spend some time with the family, show them that things are back to normal and feel a bit more comfortable. The kids especially have really missed me a lot and they're happy that I'm home. It's their first school day tomorrow so I'll take them to school. They're really happy so I'm happy as well.