Battling Bradley Lowery’s hero Jermain Defoe broke down in tears as he discussed his ‘special’ relationship with the youngster at his unveiling as a Bournemouth player today.
The former Sunderland striker, who has built up a real bond with the terminally-ill six-year-old, said: “He will be in my heart for the rest of my life.”
Jermain visited Bradley at his Blackhall Colliery home last week, with their friendship having grown since the youngster was mascot at Sunderland’s game against Everton last September.
The 34-year-old met the press for the first time since joining Bournemouth today, and was tearful after being asked about his relationship with Bradley.
Jermain, who asked for a short break after beins asked about Bradley, said: “It has been difficult.
“It has been hard, because I’ve just kept this in for so long.
It has been hard, because I’ve just kept this in for so longJermain Defoe
“I’ve been trying to be strong for my family and his family.
“I don’t really know how to put it in words how I really feel, because it has been a special time having that relationship with Brad.”
After Bradley was mascot for the match against Everton, Jermain kept in touch with his family, and they have met regularly since.
Jermain has fond memories of his first meeting with the brave six-year-old.
He added: “From that first moment I met him, I just couldn’t believe that he was actually the young kid that was ill.
“He ran over to me, and there was an instant connection.
“I knew he was going to be mascot, but I hadn’t seen a picture of him, so I didn’t really know him.
“He just ran over to me, so I thought ‘OK, this must be little Brad’.
“He had great energy in the changing room and a great character.”
Jermain says he and his family will continue to support Bradley’s family moving forward.
Bradley is seriously ill at home, and the most recent update from his family on social media said that he was ‘still fighting to stay with us’, and that ‘nobody knows where he is getting the strength from or how he is doing it’.
Jermain said: “I speak to the family every day.
“I was with him a few days ago and it was tough to see him suffer like that.
“I felt like I was prepared for it, because of what I’ve been through previously with my dad.
“But it was just so tough to see a kid of that age who has been going through this for so long.
“There’s a lot of stuff on social media and he’s obviously struggling. I can say it is probably going to be a matter of days.
“He will always be in my heart for the rest of my life. The family know that.
“Not only me – my whole family are there for his family going forward.
“It’s difficult and I suppose it puts things into perspective.
“There’s not a day that goes past where I don’t 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.