The current state of Aston Villa is about as low as it can get without the club going into administration or getting relegated to League One. Villa are manager-less for the second time this season. Fans are protesting, and the club seem not too happy about the protests. This is pretty close to rock bottom.
On this day four years ago, it was announced that Stiliyan Petrov was undergoing treatment for acute leukemia. As much as the current state of the club upsets supporters, it pales in comparison to that. The captain of Aston Villa undergoing treatment for cancer was more upsetting than Remi Garde leaving is.
Four years later, with Petrov seemingly healthy, it's easy to re-write history. Completely ignoring his role as captain or his role on the pitch, Stiliyan Petrov is a man in his mid-30s with young children. Anyone having to go through that is gutting. And then add in what he means to Aston Villa, and it was especially heart-wrenching.
In their first match after the announcement, Aston Villa lost to Chelsea 4-2. After going down 2-0, Villa scored two goals in the last 15 minutes to tie the match. It was an extremely emotional comeback after an extremely emotional match. The Villa fans started the 19th minute applause that day. Battling back seemed like the perfect result for such an occasion. But then Chelsea scored two late goals, breaking everyone's heart. It prompted this response from me:
After most Villa matches I'm angry. Today I'm just depressed. I'm gonna go have a 3 hour shower and cry.— Matt Ferenchick (@MattF15) March 31, 2012
Never before or since has a match felt like such a kick in the stomach. Not even the ones that appeared to seal relegation (ie Hull City 2015) were as heart-wrenching as that day.
By all accounts Stiliyan Petrov has recovered from leukemia. He officially retired from football in May 2013, and has since taken up coaching roles at Aston Villa. Because of that, it's easy to forget the effect the diagnosis had on Aston Villa at the time.
Aston Villa will get relegated this season. The club is seemingly in turmoil, and I'm being generous by adding in the "seemingly". But they will bounce back someday. It might be next year, or it might not be for a while. But they will. There are no guarantees with cancer. Four years later, Stiliyan Petrov is still with us. And for that, we should be thankful.