Raheem Sterling’s tribute on the pitch to a youth player who died of leukaemia was a “pleasant surprise” to the family, his father said.
Damary Dawkins died on Sunday after he relapsed twice following a stem cell transplant shortly before Christmas.
England forward Sterling lifted his jersey after scoring his second goal in their match against the Czech Republic to reveal a picture of him and Damary.
The 13-year-old, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia when he was nine, played in Crystal Palace’s development squad.
His dad Tony Dawkins told the Press Association: “It was a pleasant surprise.
“I knew that they used to speak because (Sterling) came down to the hospital, they played pool together and apparently they swapped numbers.
“I remember when Crystal Palace played Manchester City and they lost Damary put on his tracksuit with the Crystal Palace badge and took a picture to send to Raheem. They had banter with each other.
“It was very, very touching and fitting. I know Damary touched his heart.”
Damary had intensive chemotherapy following his diagnosis but, following a relapse in 2018, his family were advised he would need a donor, which had a 50% success rate.
A worldwide search for a bone marrow donor with Afro-Caribbean descent began and gathered support following a tweet by Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson.
Mr Dawkins said: “Roy invited him down to the grounds to meet the players and then Raheem reached out and said he wanted to meet him.
“He came down, he spent some time with him and they had a good laugh.”
Although his transplant was successful, Damary relapsed in March and was admitted to hospital but died on Sunday March 17.
His father thanked the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust for supporting the family through his son’s treatment, adding they helped “to make Damary’s life easier”.
A GoFundMe page set up to help Damary’s family with funeral costs has received more than £3,000 of donations following Sterling’s touching tribute.
The Manchester City player told ITV1: “I thought I had to do something to try to give his family something to smile about.”
Special night in so many ways ☝🏾✨ RIP Damary, gone but u will never be forgotten. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/AIJ0YVi5SY
— Raheem Sterling (@sterling7) March 22, 2019
Mr Dawkins said Damary’s death had been “devastating” and paid tribute to his son, who played football for two years whilst undergoing cancer treatment.
“He fought to the end and I call him a soldier, I take my hat off to him. I’ve got nothing but respect for him,” Mr Dawkins said.
“No-one knew until I said to somebody that he had cancer, they would have never believed it.
“He never, ever complained, he never moaned, all the time he just got on with it and did what he had to do to.
“He never really thought about himself, he just thought about others.”
You can donate to the GoFundMe page set up to support Damary’s family here: https://www.gofundme.com/damary-dawkins-campaign