Bradley Lowery, the Sunderland football club mascot whose battle with a rare cancer helped raise more than £1m, has died.
The six-year-old touched hundreds of thousands of hearts when he struck up a close friendship with the team’s striker Jermain Defoe after he had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma.
His death on Friday was announced on the family’s Facebook page. His mother, Gemma, wrote that her “brave boy” and “little superhero” was with the angels, and had died “in mammy and daddies arms surrounded by his family”. “There are no words to describe how heartbroken we are,” she added.
Bradley and Defoe were pictured together at the family’s home in Blackhall, county Durham, last week after he had a party in bed as a way of saying goodbye.
In an emotional press conference in Bradley’s final days, Defoe said: “He will always be in my heart for the rest of my life.
“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. It is special.”
Bradley was a mascot for Sunderland several times. Fans chanted his name at games and held banners saying: “Cancer has no colours.”
The Football Association invited him to be a mascot for England’s World Cup qualifier at Wembley against Lithuania on 26 March and when Defoe was called up to the squad, Bradley was there to see him score.
Captain Joe Hart let Bradley and Defoe lead the team out on to the pitch to deafening applause from the crowd of 78,000 people, leading Bradley to cover his ears. “I have had such an amazing day and I will never forget Jermain because I love him so much,” the young boy said afterwards.
Less than 24 hours later, he was back in hospital for more treatment to extend his life.
He celebrated his sixth birthday in May with a huge party on the local cricket pitch with a funfair and fire eaters.
His beloved Sunderland led tributes, saying in a statement: “Bradley captured the hearts and minds of everyone at our club with his indomitable spirit, tremendous courage and beautiful smile, which could light up even the darkest of rooms.”
It added: “Bradley’s story not only touched our club and our fans, but also the wider football community.”
Bradley’s family had close ties with Everton, and he went on to be a mascot to the Merseyside club too. The Everton chairman, Bill Kenwright, said: “We are so privileged to have known him … and will always be proud that he chose us as his second club.”
Bury FC, who are playing against Sunderland in a friendly on Friday night, said there would be a minute’s applause for the youngster ahead of kick-off.
Former England striker Gary Lineker, who hosted the Sports Personality of the Year awards at which Bradley was a special guest last year, said: “Terribly sad to hear that little Bradley Lowery has passed away. A warrior and an inspiration to the end. RIP Bradley.”
Liverpool FC tweeted: “Bradley was an inspiration to everyone.”
The adventures of Bradley, who has a brother, Kieran, raised public awareness of the cancer. He was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when he was 18 months old but then given the all clear. But the cancer returned in July 2016.