The story of Jermain Defoe and Bradley Lowery’s friendship gripped the country during the little boy’s desperate fight for life.
A devout Sunderland fan, Bradley’s hero was then Black Cats marksman Defoe and the pair quickly struck up a heartwarming relationship.
Its impact was certainly felt by Defoe and as a permanent reminder of just how much Bradley meant to him, he has had his name tattooed on his arm.
Jermain Defoe has had his special friendship with Bradley Lowery marked on him forever
The former Sunderland striker has had Bradley’s name tattooed onto his arm
The tattoo, which reads ‘Brads’, is just the latest chapter of Defoe and Bradley’s special story
Bradley bravely fought against a rare form of cancer called neuroblastoma but tragically passed away in July 2017, aged six.
Before his passing, however, he and Defoe were virtually inseparable.
The duo’s special bond began in September 2016 when Sunderland hosted Everton in the Premier League.
Sunderland-mad Bradley led his beloved Black Cats out onto the pitch as a mascot before receiving a round of applause during the fifth minute at the Stadium of Light.
Supporters of both clubs sang ‘there’s only one Bradley Lowery’, before a banner carrying the message ‘we’re with you, Bradley’ was unfurled at the stadium.
Sunderland supporter Bradley leads his beloved team out alongside Defoe against Everton
Both sets of supporters passed round a banner which read: ‘We’re with you, Bradley’
Bradley receives a hug from Sunderland mascot Samson the Cat ahead of that match
Speaking after meeting his hero Defoe, Bradley told the Sunderland Echo: ‘This has been amazing. I got to meet Jermain Defoe, who’s my favourite and everyone said my name. Thank you everyone.’
After giving Defoe tips on how to finish in the tunnel before that match, three months later Bradley demonstrated his prowess before Sunderland’s draw with Chelsea.
Meeting Defoe once again, Bradley was also introduced to Diego Costa and even took a penalty against Asmir Begovic – and scored! That effort saw him win Match of the Day’s goal of the month competition in December 2016.
Support for the youngster continued just a few days later when Watford striker Troy Deeney gave Defoe a Christmas card to deliver to Bradley on behalf of the whole Hornets squad.
Bradley won Match of the Day’s goal of the month for December 2016 for his strike vs Chelsea
The youngster had a playful argument with Diego Costa and put the Chelsea man in his place
Watford captain Troy Deeney presents a Christmas card for Bradley to his best friend Defoe
In the February, their relationship was encapsulated in one photo Defoe shared on Twitter.
As Defoe and his Sunderland team-mates visited him in hospital, young Bradley fell asleep on his bed in the arms of the forward.
Speaking after the visit, Defoe said: ‘As soon as I walked into the room, he jumped up and grabbed me and said: “get in the bed!”
‘He got the covers on me, he said to his mum: “could you turn the lights off?” He just wanted a cuddle and to go to sleep.’
Young Sunderland fan Bradley ‘fell asleep cuddling Defoe’ in hospital in February 2017
And the pair got to see each other again a month later after Defoe’s fine form for Sunderland earned him a call-up to the England squad – much to the delight of young Bradley.
Bradley jumped for joy upon hearing the news that his idol had got the recall and the 34-year-old marked his England return alongside his little friend in heartwarming scenes.
As the players took to the Wembley turf, Defoe carried the youngster in his arms before Bradley could be seen covering his ears, such was the thunderous cheer he and the England players received.
Bradley was delighted with the news that Defoe received an England call-up last year
The Sunderland fan jumped for joy when his mum told him Defoe was going to be at Wembley
Defoe then managed to make Bradley’s day even more special by opening the scoring in the 21st minute during the Three Lions’ 2-0 win against Lithuania.
After the match, Defoe said: ‘It’s nice to score two goals but to win is what matters and the team spirit. It’s hard to put in words, I had to keep my emotions at the beginning with little Brad with me.’
Bradley eventually lost his battle with neuroblastoma in July 2017 and Defoe was incredibly emotional at the funeral.
Following Bradley’s passing, Defoe said: ‘He was my best friend. He was genuine. He loved his football. He loved me and I loved him. There was nothing I could give him apart from just being a friend.’
The England forward was this year awarded the North East Personality of the Year award and said afterwards: ‘Mine and Bradley’s relationship was a special one, a unique relationship, maybe something that the football world has not really seen before, not to that sort of extent anyway.
‘It’s a proud moment, a real humbling moment.’
Defoe was subsequently awarded an OBE earlier this year and again took the opportunity to pay homage to Bradley, dedicating the honour to his ‘amazing’ friend.
This tattoo is yet another touching chapter in a special, if not desperately sad, story.
If you would like to donate then please click here to give to the Bradley Lowery Foundation.
Defoe (right) attended the launch of his sister Chonte Greenaway’s (left) business