Wise Men Say: Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe up there with the best of them

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I’m sure no one will be surprised when I say having supported Sunderland for more than four decades, I’ve had a few disappointments.

There will be another one coming my way when this dreadful season comes to an end.

Yes, relegation was a kick in the gut, but it’s been hanging over Sunderland for so long the blow was fairly deadened when it finally landed.

No, the sadness I shall feel at the end of the current campaign is saying goodbye to Jermain Defoe.

Growing up my strike heroes were the likes of Gary Rowell and Colin West.

I’ve been lucky enough to see Kevin Philips and Niall Quinn in their Sunderland pomp, and it was even a pleasure to see Darren Bent in top form in a red and white shirt before he let us down so badly.

For me, Defoe is right up there with these Sunderland strike stars, and it will be a bitter pill to swallow when he moves on.

But there will be no animosity.

Bent talked about becoming a Black Cats legend before he jumped ship for a few dollars more, the thought of which still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

There will be none of that when, if as expected, Defoe moves on in the summer.

No one can say he didn’t give his all to try to keep the Wearsiders in the top flight, but while there’s even a sniff of a chance of staying in the England squad, the Premiership is where he must remain.

Wherever Defoe is plying his trade next season he deserves our thanks.

Before he came to Sunderland I thought he might be something of a moody so and so, but we’ve never really seen anything like that despite the struggles of the club on the pitch.

Off the field, his relationship with young Bradley Lowery has been nothing short of inspirational.

I can’t even begin to imagine what that brave little boy and his family are going through, and my heart goes out to them.

To see the smile on young Bradley’s face when he is with his hero Defoe is a truly heartwarming spectacle.

It reminds me of how I used to worship my heroes West and Rowell in my younger years, when football was still a truly magical thing.

Older, wider and more cynical, it’s harder for me to still look at players with the same unconditional adoration.

I hope that the current set of young Sunderland fans has Defoe on a pedestal and remembers just what a hero he has been for their club.

It’s just a shame they couldn’t have seen him in a thriving Sunderland squad.

So where do we go from here?

Well, the Championship for a start, but in terms of discovering our next Defoe or Philips, Sunderland fans are all too aware they don’t come around that often.

While Defoe goes with our thanks, hopefully, it won’t be too long before Sunderland fans of all ages have a new goalscoring hero to pin their hopes and dreams on.

* The Wise Men Say podcast is available from every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction from David Moyes. You can stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes