"For the life I've lived in football, I will always be incredibly grateful. For the opportunity this crazy thing that happened in my life has given me, I also feel grateful in a strange kind of way. This crazy thing, somehow, has touched people and I want to try to channel this in a positive way. This will be the greatest challenge of my life."
If you're an Aston Villa supporter and you managed to read those words from Stiliyan Petrov without a little sniffle, then your heart must be made of stone. The Villa captain has announced his retirement from football, stating he'll be setting up a foundation to help people diagnosed with leukaemia.
Petrov was diagnosed with acute leukaemia over a year ago and is now in remission, so the announcement of his retirement comes as little surprise. But that doesn't make it less emotional. Petrov has been with the Villa since 2006, when Martin O'Neill brought him in from Celtic. He won both the Supporters' Player of the Year and Players' Player of the year for 2008-2009, and was handed the armband at the end of that season.
It would be putting a gloss on history to say Stan was one of the best players Villa has ever seen, or that he was never frustrating to watch (30 yard speculative shots, anyone?). But there's no denying he was a strong player and committed to both the sport and the club. That's something the fans appreciated, and that 19th minute applause that still happens for every match reflects just how much we love and respect our captain.
And it's going to be damn near impossible to stop the tears on Saturday, when Petrov leads the players in their lap of appreciation, thanking the fans after the final home match. Trust me, captain, we'll be thanking you even more.