Jermain Defoe shares emotional recollections of his relationship with Bradley Lowery, the 6-year-old, terminally ill Sunderland fan.
One of the most touching stories in all of world soccer has been the relationship between terminally ill fan Bradley Lowery and Jermain Defoe, who starred for the boy's beloved Sunderland as the club and players developed a genuine bond and connection with the 6-year-old.
According to Bradley's family, his condition–a rare kind of cancer called neuroblastoma–is worsening and Defoe, who broke down in speaking about him at his introduction at Bournemouth, says it could be a "matter of days" before he passes.
(UPDATE: Lowery's family shared the heartbreaking news on Friday that Bradley has indeed passed away, surrounded by his family.)
At Bournemouth, where Defoe recently signed a three-year deal, the England forward opened up on his connection with Bradley, whose fight has become an inspiration. Defoe recently was at Bradley's sixth birthday party and he said he visited with him a few days ago. Bradley accompanied Defoe onto the field at Wembley Stadium for England's World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and the image of the two standing for the national anthem is Defoe's Twitter avatar.
"It has been hard. I have kept this in for so long," an emotional Defoe said. "Obviously I have tried to be strong for my family and his family but I don't really know how to put into words how I really feel, because it's a special time really, having that sort of relationship with Brads. The first moment I met him I just could not believe that he was actually the young kid that was ill because he sort of ran over to me. From that moment, there was that instant connection.
"I knew he would be a mascot but I hadn't seen a picture and he just ran over to me," Defoe continued. "His energy in the changing rooms, bossing the other kids about–a great character. I speak to the family every day and I was with him a few days ago. It was tough to see him suffer like that. I felt like I was prepared for it because of what I went through previously with my dad. It was so tough to see a kid of that age that's been going through this for so long.
"It's got to the stage where ... he is obviously struggling. I can say it is probably a matter of days. He will always be in my heart for the rest of my life. We are there for the family, even going forward. It is difficult. I suppose it puts stuff into perspective.
"There is not a day that goes past where I do not wake up in the morning and check my phone or think about little Bradley because his love is genuine and I can see it in his eyes when he looks at me. It is special."