Premier League striker Jermain Defoe has paid a loving tribute to his “mate” Bradley Lowery on what would have been the little boy’s seventh birthday.
The Sunderland mascot touched football’s heart with his brave fight against neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer, and the unlikely friendship he struck up with the England international.
Defoe, then playing for Sunderland, paid regular hospital visits to his friend after being struck by his bubbly personality when Bradley was chosen to be a mascot for the Black Cats.
Bradley, from Blackhall Colliery, County Durham, survived to see his sixth birthday last year but died in July.
Defoe, now with Bournemouth, paid tribute on Twitter on Thursday, saying: “Bradley would have been seven years old today.
“I know you’re up there smiling down on us, especially your mum, dad and brother, and I bet you’re throwing another memorable party.
“Happy birthday, mate. We miss you and love you more than you’ll ever know.”
Bradley’s mother Gemma and Defoe’s partner Rachael Calvert will complete a parachute jump together to raise funds for the Bradley Lowery Foundation, which helps seriously ill children.
Writing on the foundation’s Facebook page, his mother said: “Happy 7th birthday to my beautiful angel up in heaven.
“Mammy, daddy and your big brother Kieran love you and miss you more than any words could ever describe.
“Our hearts are broken and will never be fixed, waking up on Brad’s birthday without him here is horrendous.
“My house should be filled with excitement and laughter but instead it’s replaced with sadness and tears.”