England international Jermain Defoe still thinks every day about Bradley Lowery, the football mascot who was struck down with a fatal cancer nearly four years ago.
The 38-year-old striker forged a remarkable friendship with the little boy, who died aged just six in 2017.
The pair met when the young Sunderland fan, ill with neuroblastoma, was a mascot and Defoe was the Black Cats’ star player.
"I'm fully behind this because it is something really close to my heart" – @IAmJermainDefoe
— Cancer Deadline Day (@CancerDeadline) February 1, 2021
The mascot later walked out at Wembley alongside his hero and “best mate” when Defoe was recalled to the England side.
The star footballer would visit Bradley in hospital, came to his sixth birthday party and has stayed close to the family who live in Blackhall Colliery, County Durham.
He attended Bradley’s funeral, which brought thousands of people onto the streets of his home village.
Defoe, now playing for Rangers, was supporting the Cancer Deadline Day campaign which urged fans to compete against supporters of other teams to raise cash for cancer charities.
He told the BBC the cause was close to his heart, having lost his father to cancer, as well as his young friend.
Defoe, who has pictures of Bradley in his house, said: “It’s four years since he died but there’s not a day that goes by when he’s not in my mind.
“Especially now with the lockdown.
“The time that you get at home when you sit and reflect about things.
“Of course, I think about Bradley.
“I still keep in contact with the family – I’m very close to them.
“It was a really difficult time for me, especially when Bradley passed away – it was really difficult because I’d got used to walking out with him at games.
“When I got back into the England squad he came out with me at Wembley and every Sunderland home game I’d walk out with him, so it was really difficult after he died.”
He had been struck by Bradley’s energy when they first met, despite Bradley being ill.
And when he learned how much of a boost he could give Bradley by being around, he was pleased to give his support.
Defoe said: “If I was the person that could make him smile and, towards the end, be happy, then I was more than happy to spend as much time with him and the family as possible.”
For more information, or to donate, please visit: https://www.cancerdeadlineday.org/