The family of Bradley Lowery have thanked Jermain Defoe for being such a good friend to the little fighter as Sunderland AFC’s star striker prepares for what is likely to be his last game for the club at the Stadium of Light.
The friendship between the five-year-old cancer battler and the England international has melted the hearts of the world.
But now as the Black Cats face their last home match in a season that has brought relegation from the Premier League, fans could be saying a sad goodbye to Defoe if, as expected, he moves on this summer.
Whatever the outcome, Bradley’s family are keen to see fans cheer on Defoe in recognition of the difference he has made to the life of the Blackhall youngster throughout his battle with neuroblastoma.
Bradley has been invited to the game as mascot and appears on the cover of the match programme, with the proceeds going to the Bradley Lowery fund.
Earlier this week, his family revealed the youngster is likely to spend his sixth birthday in hospital as doctors are now hoping to slow down the speed at which tumours are growing inside his body.
Scans have shown that Bradley will now need intensive antibiotics for a week, although his family are hopeful he will feel well enough to attend the match.
His mum Gemma said: “Bradley loves Jermain and the bond between them is special.
“We will never forget how he has helped cheer Bradley up and put a smile on his face when nothing else could.
“The same goes for Sunderland football club, I can honestly say that they have done everything they can to support us and helped make special memories.”
Fundraising coordinator Lynn Murphy said it would be great if fans at the game applaud Jermain to acknowledge his friendship with Bradley.
She said: “Jermain has been fantastic with Bradley.
“What he and Bradley have is pure friendship.
“There is nothing fake about it, it is so natural.
“He really does adore Bradley.”
“Their friendship has created memories for both Bradley and Jermain.
“It’s bad that the club has been relegated, but I want to say to them ‘look at what you have done for this little boy.’
“Jermain is fantastic with him, so even if he moves to a different team, we are still going to have the support from the club and from Jermian.
“He is a genuine friend of the family and their friendship can still grow even if he leaves.”
Veteran fan George Forster, of Sunderland Supporters’ Association, said he would be sad if the game was Defoe’s last after two and a half seasons in the red and white stripes.
“He has been a very good professional throughout his career,” said George.
“He’s looked after himself fitness-wise and always set a good example to youngsters who are interested in the game.
“I really think he would’ve got a lot more goals if he’d had better service too since he’s played for Sunderland, even though he’s managed quite a lot anyway.
“It’ll be a shame, but I expect him to go in the summer.”
George added that it was good to see the England international have a special relationship with Black Cats fans.
“He’s really gelled with the supporters, which you can’t say about every player,” said George.
“His bond with Bradley Lowery has been great to see as well and I’m sure he’ll keep in touch with him even if he leaves Sunderland in the summer.
“We just wish that this season had been a better one if it his to be his last playing for us.”
* Sunderland fans who are unable to attend the match can still get an electronic version of the match programme, with all proceeds going to the Bradley Lowery Fund.
The full 100 pages of Red & White can be downloaded to iPads, mobile phones and home computers. The electronic version costs £2.99 (Apple price tier 3) and can be obtained via the PocketMags App or at www.pocketmags.com - just search for ‘Sunderland’.
* Sunderland Supporters’ Association is running buses to Sunderland’s final two away games against Arsenal on Tuesday and Chelsea on Sunday, May 21.
Buses for the Arsenal match leaves Monk Street at midday on Tuesday, with buses to the Chelsea game setting off at 7am on May 21.
Tickets for buses to each game are priced at £40.
Call 567 0067 for more information or to book.