Football mascot Bradley Lowery brought out the best in people with his “pure and innocent love of the beautiful game”, thousands of mourners at the six-year-old’s funeral were told.
England striker Jermain Defoe wiped away a tear after the service which brought Bradley’s home village of Blackhall, County Durham, to a halt.
He wore an England shirt with Bradley’s name and number 6 on the back, as mourners were asked to wear their football shirts with pride.
Fans lining the streets to applaud the cortege as it passed and release balloons as a tribute to Bradley wore kits from Sunderland, Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, Manchester United, West Ham, Bournemouth and Arsenal at the request of the family to show that “cancer has no colours”.
Sunderland players John O’Shea, Lee Cattermole, Vito Mannone and ex-manager David Moyes were among those packed into St Joseph’s Catholic Church, where Bradley had been baptised six years before.
Father Ian Jackson led the service and paid tribute to his “wonderful personality”, adding: “Bradley was a bright, brave, loving, cheeky monkey”.
Bradley was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare cancer of the nervous system, when he was 18 months old.
Last season he was mascot for Sunderland, Everton and England, striking up a remarkable friendship with Defoe, who left training in Spain with new club Bournemouth to be at the funeral.
Sunderland AFC’s chaplain Marc Lyden-Smith told the church, plus the thousands of mourners following the service on speakers outside, how football sometimes gets a bad press - but not today.
He said: “Today the football world stands united, whatever our colours, to pay their respects to this incredible little boy with a huge personality.
“Bradley Lowery has done much more than just touch the hearts of so many football fans.
“His lasting legacy is that he has, with his pure and innocent love of the beautiful game, brought people together.
“He has been an inspiration and a friend to sports stars. He has been a light to many people in the darkness of suffering.
“He has been more than a mascot to Sunderland Football Club, he has been an encouragement to many and a loving smile to all of us.”
Fr Lyden-Smith praised Bradley’s parents Gemma and Carl for the dignity and love they have shown throughout his ordeal.
Bradley’s coffin was brought to the church in a horse-drawn carriage, led through the village by a piper playing Amazing Grace and followed by superhero characters.
Spontaneous applause broke out in the crowd as the cortege passed.
And it happened again when the coffin was brought out of the church and was driven away before a private ceremony at a crematorium.