On March 24, 2012, Stiliyan Petrov captain Aston Villa during a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League.
That game turned out to be the final professional match of his career, though he didn't realise it at the time.
Initially feeling a little under the weather with what he thought was just the common cold, Petrov developed a fever after the Arsenal game that soon deteriorated quite quickly. Doctors soon diagnosed him with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia just six days after the game.
"At the start, I just had a general cold. It never crossed my mind that it could be something like that," Petrov tells FourFourTwo.
"I was never ill – I was always so fit and strong. I couldn’t understand how I went from being somebody who always pushed others, to being helpless, having to wait for my wife to assist me out of bed. Going from diagnosis to treatment to the outcome was a journey from hell.
"I had to fight for my life. Nothing prepares you for that. For the first 14 months, my immune system was wiped out so I couldn’t meet people – I went to dark places. I didn’t want to do the last stage of my treatment. I was exhausted, mentally and physically. It felt like it would never end."
Fortunately, Petrov has fully recovered from leukaemia, and has since earned his UEFA pro coaching badge and graduated the UEFA Master for International Players Programme.
He also returned to football in an amateur capacity less than 18 months after the initial diagnosis, turning out for his local Sunday League Over-35s side Wychall Wanderers alongside some impressive names, as he reveals to FFT.
"The boys weren’t happy with me because I put rules in place: we’d meet up for breakfast in the morning and I’d tell them not to drink the night before! We had a formidable side and great characters: Maik Taylor, David Busst, Mark Bellingham – Jude’s dad. It was all about the love of football."
Alongside former professionals Emile Heskey, Gaizka Mendieta, Michael Johnson, Gareth Farrelly and Kerys Harrop, Petrov is now the director of Player 4 Player, which supports professionals transitioning into retirement and helping to ease the stress that comes with it.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Get FourFourTwo Newsletter
The best features, fun and footballing quizzes, straight to your inbox every week.
Ryan is a staff writer for FourFourTwo, joining the team full-time in October 2022. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before eventually earning himself a position with FourFourTwo permanently. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer while a Trainee News Writer at Future.