Their special friendship touched thousands of hearts around the world
And now footballer Jermain Defoe is to be honoured for his positivity and commitment to Bradley Lowery, who died last year following a brave fight against rare neuroblastoma cancer.
Former SAFC striker Defoe will be recognised at the Football Writers' Association's annual awards night, which si taking place later this month.
He will receive the North East Personality of the Year trophy, a special award handed out in association with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, to recognise someone who uses their position in football to benefit the wider community.
Defoe's friendship with Bradley, of Blackhall, not only enchanted football fans around the world, but raised further awareness of Bradley's illness, which affects less than 100 children in the UK each year.
The awards will be held at Ramside Hall, and are sponsored by William Hill. The event also raises money for the charity created in Sir Bobby's honour.
Sir Bobby’s widow, Lady Elsie, said: “Young Bradley obviously loved football and I’m glad it gave him such pleasure, even when he was very poorly. For his parents, I hope the support and love for Bradley from the football community has provided some small comfort after their dreadful loss.
“The special connection between Bradley and Jermain was apparent for everyone to see. I’m very proud that Jermain is receiving our award because it recognises his wonderful compassion and his commitment to helping other children with cancer in Bradley’s memory.
“The passion for football in this region means it has great power to do good. The friendship between Bradley and Jermain, and all the positive things that have happened because of it, is proof of that.”
Throughout the last year of Bradley's life, a special friendship developed between the little battler and his favourite player Defoe, who was in turn supported by Sunderland AFC and team-mates including Seb Larsson, Vito Mannone and captain, John O’Shea.
In March 2016, the pair led the national team out at Wembley after Defoe was called up for England. The striker spent much of his spare time with Bradley, visiting him both in hospital and at home.
Colin Young, secretary of the North East Football Writers’ Association, added: “The very special friendship between Bradley Lowery and Jermain Defoe touched the whole country. It started from a joint love of football and Sunderland Football Club and blossomed into a bond which was an inspiration to millions of fans across the world."
Tickets to the black tie event are available now at £58 per person, which includes a four-course meal and entertainment. Please call Claire Stephen on 0191 375 3080 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to book.