Bradley and Jermain's special bond

  • Jermain Defoe scores on return to England side after more than three years

  • Terminally ill Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery by his side at Wembley

  • Football world has united behind youngster's battle against Neuroblastoma

Football supporters the world over take many forms – as do the relationships with their heroes who step onto the hallowed turf.

There is one unique bond, between a fan and a player in the north-east of England, which has transcended the sport and touched the hearts of thousands. Bradley Lowery is a Sunderland fan, and his Twitter bio is straight to the point.

“I'm 5 years old and have a cancer called neuroblastoma. The doctors have said there is nothing more that can be done but we will see about that.”

Bradley was diagnosed with the condition aged just 18 months, and fought the cancer for two years before going into remission. In July last year, Bradley sadly relapsed and his family redoubled their fundraising efforts for expensive treatment abroad.

The footballing community rallied round. The brave youngster was invited to be a mascot for Sunderland’s game against Everton, and was carried onto the pitch before the game by his favourite player: Jermain Defoe. The Goodison Park outfit pledged £200,000 to his appeal, and fans from across the globe gave their best wishes to Bradley.

Sunderland – and bitter rivals Newcastle - arranged fundraisers, the Black Cats invited him to be a mascot at their home game against Chelsea – just weeks after his diagnosis was labelled terminal. He scored in the pre-match warm-up against Chelsea ‘keeper Asmir Begovic, with his effort voted ‘goal of the month’ by BBC viewers, and the organisation then invited him to be a special guest at their Sports Personality of the Year awards.

  • Defoe scored for England against Slovenia at the 2010 World Cup**

  • He last appeared for England in a friendly against Chile in November 2013

  • Today's goal was his first for England since scoring twice against San Marino in March 2013

  • He scored in the refurbished Wembley Stadium's first WCQ: a 5-1 win against Kazakhstan**

  • The Sunderland forward has 14 goals from 28 Premier League appearances in 2016/17

With all of this ongoing, Bradley’s bond with Defoe grew tighter – with the forward visiting the youngster in hospital.

Defoe then carried Bradley out onto the pitch against Everton in their return Premier League clash in February, which followed the announcement that the youngster would be a guest of honour, and mascot, for England against Lithuania in their FIFA World Cup™ qualifier in March.

The Sunderland forward had been out of the international fold since late 2013 and, aged 34, it seemed unlikely he would get the nod from the Three Lions again. However, after hitting a rich vein of form, scoring 14 goals in a relegation-threatened side, Gareth Southgate gave Defoe the call.

In a remarkable twist of fate, Defoe started the qualifier, and stepped out at Wembley to lead the line for his country once more – with his biggest fan by his side. The No9 then proceeded to score after just 21 minutes of his international return.

“It's hard to put into words how I felt," Defoe said after England's 2-0 win against Lithuania. "I had to keep my emotions in check obviously because of little Bradley. You can imagine how I felt leading the team out with him. It was special."

With Bradley’s continued backing and inspiration, Defoe’s goals will likely continue to flow. If footballing fairytales were to become reality, then it would surely come to pass that Bradley would see his hero Defoe take to the field for the Three Lions at Russia 2018.

You can donate to Bradley's Fight on his JustGiving page.