By Brian Doogan
Stiliyan Petrov will return to action for the first time since he was diagnosed as suffering from acute leukaemia 17 months ago when he turns out for a "Stiliyan XI" against a Celtic XI on September 8 at Celtic Park.
The 34-year-old former Villa captain, now assistant to Villa Under-21 coach Gordon Cowans, is working hard for his big comeback and also for the upcoming launch of his charitable foundation, which will raise funds for leukaemia research and other related causes.
Villa manager Paul Lambert, his former teammate and midfield partner at Parkhead, will also be taking part in the game and Petrov, whose leukaemia is in remission, is looking forward to being reunited on the pitch with Lambert and other ex-teammates and celebrities.
"I'm really happy that the manager has agreed to play a part in my game on September 8 - the way he looks he might be ready to play the whole 90 minutes!" Petrov said.
"If the training goes well for me, who knows? I'm definitely working hard and getting fitter to play a part in the game and I can't wait for it. I'm really excited and I'm really excited about launching my foundation, which I'll be able to say more about very soon."
Petrov has fought an inspiring and courageous battle ever since his diagnosis, demonstrating the perseverance, sacrifice and aspiration which were hallmarks of his career.
The uplifting news that he is coming through scarred but unbowed, having recently finished the tortuous bouts of intensive chemotherapy treatment, has been met with jubilation by supporters of Villa, Celtic and Bulgaria, in particular, but also by fans of football throughout the world.
The 19th minute applause during games became emblematic of the depth of support and affection for Petrov and, now that he is through the worst, he feels the time is right to bring this ritual to a natural end going into the new season.
"Fans have asked me about it and I want to make clear that it was a great thing from the Villa fans, an unbelievable gesture which meant so much to me and my family through some of the toughest periods we had to endure," Petrov added.
"The fans have shown me so much love, support and respect and I will hold this forever in my heart.
"But we all have to move on and I have no problem with this. In fact, I know they will always be beside me, they're with me and I'm in their thoughts. That's a precious and very humbling thing.
"When I went through the toughest times they stood beside me and I'll never forget this.
"I know the fans will support the team this season in the same way they supported me because they showed how united they are and, as a club, we are looking forward together to the kind of exciting season it promises to be."