Parkhead was sold out for Stiliyan Petrov’s charity match as 60,000 people turned out in celebration of the humble Bulgarian who was forced to retire after being diagnosed with leukaemia in March 2012.
On an emotional day Stiliyan (not Stilian as the press sometimes spell it) was reduced to tears as stars from the football and showbiz world came together to help raise money for a number of charities including the foundation set up in his name; The Stiliyan Petrov Cancer Foundation.
The popular midfielder put on his boots again for the first time since his diagnosis, playing the first half hour for the Stilyan XI before reappearing in the hoops as a late sub for the Celtic XI, who were managed by Martin O’Neill, the man who brought him to Aston Villa in 2006.
It was the Stiliyan XI, managed by Kenny Dalglish (who alongside John Barnes signed the teenage Petrov for Celtic in 1999), that prevailed 5-3 in an entertaining encounter which included a hattrick from Dimitar Berbatov plus goals from Pierre Van Hooijdonk and, of course, Henrik Larsson.
Other names that gave up their time in support of ‘Stan’ included Gareth Barry, Paul Lambert, Chris Sutton, Robert Pires, Shay Given, Chris Kamara, Jamie Redknapp and John Terry.
It wasn’t all pros and ex-pros, comedian John Bishop and Westlife star Nicky Byrne also featured. But the most bizarre moment came when One Direction star Louis Tomlinson was flattened by Aston Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor in a challenge. The young pop star had to go off and was physically sick at the side of the pitch, leading to Agbonlahor receiving death threats and becoming an instant hate figure for a million teenage girls around the globe.
(For the record, I feel physically sick whenever I think of One Direction so perhaps there’s some payback there. Oh, and if any young One Direction fans want to send me death threats, please feel free to email me at my email address; firstname.lastname@example.org)
At the final whistle Petrov addressed the fans: “Thank you very much, all the support and everything you have done for me throughout my career. Today you showed the world how special this place is. You made it special for me, my family and these players and thank you for standing by me.”
Petrov’s wife Paulina and their children, Stiliyan Jnr and Kristiyan, joined him on a lap of honour, where the couple were visibly overcome with emotion. A quick glance around the crowd confirmed they were not alone in their tears – it was that kind of day.
Celtic XI: Louis Tomlinson, Tom Boyd, Tosh McKinlay, Jackie McNamara, Joos Valgaeren, Bobo Balde, Henrik Larsson, Morten Wieghorst, Chris Sutton, Pierre Van Hooijdonk, Jorge Cadete, Neil Lennon, Tommy Johnson, Brian McClair, Bobby Petta, Martin Compston, Didier Agathe, Rab Douglas, Stevie Graham, Warren Brown, Jordan Sailsman, Lubo Moravcik, Johan Mjallby, Stiliyan Petrov.
Stiliyan XI: Shay Given, Radostin Kishishev, Freddie Bouma, Marian Hristov, Chris Kamara, Nicky Byrne, Robert Pires, Dimitar Berbatov, Jamie Redknapp, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Hristo Yovov, Paul Lambert, James Allan, Martin Petrov, Gareth Barry, John Bishop, Habib Beye, Carlos Cuellar, Spencer Matthews, John Terry, Stiliyan Petrov.