IT is more than a song, more than a roared lyric. The message of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is more significant than merely hailing the advent of the meeting of a Celtic and a Liverpool legend on the turf of Celtic Park.
Stiliyan Petrov, Hoops hero, holder of more than 100 Bulgarian caps and a survivor of leukemia, talks quietly but persuasively about the power of others in the most personal of trials.
“In this physical and mental fight, in this struggle to live, you can receive help from those closest to you,” he said, “but in my battle I had help and support from people I didn’t even know. They have become part of my life. They have helped me incredibly. That’s why we need a special day, special moments at Celtic Park.”
That is why The Stiliyan Petrov Foundation, The James Milner Foundation and Celtic FC Foundation are joining forces for ‘A Match for Cancer’, sponsored by Dafabet, on September 8 (kick off 2pm), at Paradise.
Stiliyan had personal experience of such an occasion and its extraordinary value. Five years ago he played in a testimonial match for his foundation in front of a packed Paradise. At its climax, the fans broke in to You’ll Never Walk Alone, as Stiliyan wiped away the tears and hugged his two sons.
“It was emotional and overwhelming after everything I went through,” he said.
As a sufferer from leukemia, Stiliyan had been in an isolation unit, seeing only about 10 people over an extended period. Then he had to walk out in front of 60,000 fans at Celtic Park.
He explained: “When Celtic offered to host my game, I was scared and I didn’t know what to expect, but what a special day. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life. Words can’t describe what I felt. After everything I went through, to come out in front of such a crowd, people waving flags, singing. It made me appreciate even more how special Celtic Football Club is.
“People still talk about it and it was an example of what the club and the Foundation is all about. It is a part of the great Celtic story. People all over the world know about the Foundation’s charitable works but, more importantly, people are being helped by them.”
This story is certainly known by James Milner, the Liverpool midfielder and England internationalist.
“James and I have been talking about sharing a fundraising campaign for a long time,” said Stiliyan. “One day we decided we should have a game. We wanted the best venue, the best crowd to enjoy the game, make it an occasion, we wanted a special club to host the game.
“We obviously had the conversation with Celtic and they answered straight away that they were happy to host the match. The club knows that a lot of players, ex-players, fans, stars, whatever, rally around the cause.”
Celtic FC Foundation will release the names of the participants in the lead-up to the match but Stiliyan said: “We have agreed some great names to play in the match. The reality is that when you ask the big stars to be part of it they all come back straight away and say: ‘I’m in!’.
“James is aware of the Celtic fans’ enthusiasm for charity,” explained the former Celt. “He knows about the Foundation too. He knows how powerful Celtic Football Club is, how powerful the fans are, what a special place Celtic Park is and how great an atmosphere is created, not just in competitive matches, but in charity matches too. There have already been substantial inquiries for tickets from Liverpool.”
The occasion will be entertaining, full of excitement and fun. But Stiliyan points out the seriousness of its purpose.
“I am delighted to be associated with Celtic FC Foundation because it is an amazing organisation. It is made up of people who work, work, work to help other people,” he said. “When they are involved in anything, it is done to the highest standards.
“That is why James and I wanted to bring our foundations together with them. We feel that that together we can create a great atmosphere and provide the means to help people who are battling for their lives.
“This is to help people with cancer, especially young people, to survive and become something in life. It is very special.
“People get affected by cancer every day and they are looking for help financially, mentally. When people fight for their lives they are faced with so many problems and without help from others, they might not be able to cope.”
His life has shown him that Celtic, the Club’s charitable arm and the fans rise to meet that challenge.
“Celtic taught me what is important in life,” said Stiliyan, whose seven-year career at the club from 1999 started in his teenage years. “It was about hard work, respect, appreciation of others, and to have an understanding of principles in life, not just football. It was about the values you need to be a human being. You need that if you want to develop as a person and I found that at Celtic.”
It is why Celtic fans will turn up in their tens of thousands, ensuring that Stiliyan, James and the sufferers they seek to help will never walk alone.
Tickets are now on general sale, on a first come first served basis – maximum of 10 per person – priced at £14 for adults and £6 for concessions*.
Tickets are available to purchase online at www.celticfc.net, by calling 0871 226 1888** or by visiting the Celtic Ticket Office. The lower tier will be on sale in the first instance and Rail Seating does not apply to this match.
Premium tickets (£30) and corporate packages (£135) are also available by calling 0871 226 1888** (Option 4) or emailing [email protected]
Celtic FC Foundation will also be hosting a fundraising dinner – An Evening with Petrov and Milner – the night before the match, on Friday, September 7. This will take place in the Kerrydale Suite at Celtic Park.
Joining Stiliyan and James on the night will be a host of representatives from both charity match squads. Guests will enjoy an excellent three-course meal, auction, prize draw and after-dinner entertainment, in the company of a number of football and celebrity greats. The age limit is 18+.
Tickets are priced at £700 for a table of 10 or £70 per person and can booked via email [email protected] or telephone 0141 551 4321.
Mirroring the match, net proceeds of the dinner will be devoted to tackling cancer through Celtic FC Foundation (SC024648), The Stiliyan Petrov Foundation (1154131) and The James Milner Foundation (1146768).
* Concessions 65+/Under 16s.
** Calls cost 13p per minute, plus your phone company’s access charge. Booking fees apply online and via our sales line.