Celtic family praying for Stiliyan Petrov

Celtic family praying for Stiliyan: Bhoys united behind stricken Bulgarian

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UPDATED:

23:26 GMT, 30 March 2012

In his early days at Celtic, as the walls of his rented Glasgow flat threatened to close in, Stiliyan Petrov was presented with a candle.

Chronically homesick and unable to speak a word of English, he would light it every night and say a silent prayer.

Brothers in arms: Lennon and Petrov celebrate Celtic's League Cup Final triumph at Hampden in 2006

Brothers in arms: Lennon and Petrov
celebrate Celtic's League Cup Final triumph at Hampden in 2006

Things, he told himself, would work out fine. Yesterday, as news emerged of the Aston Villa captain being diagnosed with acute leukaemia, he was no longer alone in striking a match. In the world of football, there were plenty willing to have a quiet word with the man above on behalf of one of the game's gentlemen.

Former Celtic team-mate John Hartson, who overcame testicular and brain cancer in 2009, said on Friday night: 'I was told – and I believe this now – that the power of prayer is very, very strong.

'So many people will be praying for him – I certainly will tonight. Obviously he has to be strong and positive, and we don't know how aggressive this leukaemia is. Family, and knowing so many people are praying for you and thinking of you, gives you strength.'

Fan favourite: Petrov

Fan favourite: Petrov

Petrov has overcome adversity and unhappiness before, but nothing to match the sudden, unexpected brutality of cancer.

A stout performer against Arsenal last week, the 32-year-old developed a fever after the game and was tested by Aston Villa's Scottish doctor Iain McGuinness.

On Wednesday, Villa assistant manager Peter Grant suggested the problem was no more than a virus. /03/31/article-2123075-0082E7791000044C-131_634x426.jpg” width=”634″ height=”426″ alt=”Fighting for life: Messages of support from the Celtic family for Petrov” class=”blkBorder” />

Fighting for life: Messages of support from the Celtic family for Petrov

An older man, the Glaswegian gave Petrov a lift to the East Kilbride hotel where the Parkhead club routinely billeted their new signings at the time.

The two struck up a rapport and, within weeks, Wilson would start sifting through the bills and play a key role in dissuading Petrov from walking out on Celtic and returning to Bulgaria.

Part of the therapy were some unlikely sessions serving on Wilson's burger van in Maryhill, where diners queuing up for their bacon rolls would be startled by the sight of Celtic's new 2.2million midfielder applying the ketchup. From that point, things improved.

There were trophies along the way and a European final in Seville before Petrov left for Villa in August 2006.

If football has taught us anything of late, however, it's in the national game's incredible capacity to throw up heart-wrenching human tales.

From Fabrice Muamba to the death of Kilmarnock midfielder Liam Kelly's father, the mere act of kicking a bag of wind around a green pitch has never seemed more trivial.

Called in: Artur Boruc

Called in: Artur Boruc

On Friday, Wilson fielded calls from former team-mates far and wide, including former Celtic keeper Artur Boruc.

He told them he had been taken aback by an increase in the number of calls from Petrov this week. The two speak on a regular basis, but something, he sensed, was unusual and wrong.

There was talk of a virus and medical treatment, but Petrov seemed more worried than usual.

On Friday morning, the reasons for that became clear. Wilson's former business partner Frank Murphy is a FIFA agent and represented Petrov prior to his move south.

He told Sportsmail: 'I have spoken to Brian and he and his wife Irene are absolutely devastated by this news.

'Stiliyan has told him he will fight this. He is a strong lad, a determined lad, and the success he has had proves that.

'They did everything together. Holidays with the kids, days out, everything. It all started because Brian used to have the burger van up in the Maryhill area and, after training, Brian used to pick him up and generally hang around with him.

'Stiliyan always says that was the time which improved his English. Eventually, Brian and I became his agents and did all his commercial stuff.

'He overcame a tough spell. The kid was left to his own devices at first and he would just sit there at home with no knowledge of English. He would watch lots of movies. In fact, I was watching the Titanic programme the other night and I always remember Stiliyan saying he had learned so much from the movie of the same name.

'What he didn't realise at the time was that it was based on real history. He thought it was just a work of fiction. What happened to the Titanic was never part of his upbringing or culture. He would say to us: “No …. big ship sink” And we would be there nodding as he just kept repeating: “No….” Over and over.

'But he was an intelligent lad, a tough character, and he wouldn't let the language situation drive him out. What we know is that he is a fighter to his bootstraps. The news is unreal, to be honest. It takes some absorbing.'

Former captain Tom Boyd echoed that view last night when he said: 'It's absolutely shocking. I just hope he can come through this. John Hartson was seriously ill and managed to come through the other side.

'I remember those days when Stan first came over from Bulgaria. He found it hard to settle in Scotland.

'He was a young lad at the time, his English wasn't the best and he had signed for quite a big fee, so there would have been a lot of pressure on him.

'I remember he was a genuinely nice person. But once he settled down, he held his own in a very good Celtic team.'

To say that Celtic and Aston Villa fans were alone in wishing Petrov well last night would be wrong.

Entering a London hospital for treatment, the Bulgarian had the regards of a nation ringing in his ears. When adversity has knocked in the past, Stiliyan Petrov has generally answered.