England striker Jermain Defoe has spoken of his genuine love for ‘best friend’ Bradley Lowery.
The six-year-old, who died last month, captured hearts across the sporting world as he battled the rare childhood cancer neuroblastoma.
But over Bradley’s final few months he forged a particularly strong bond with Defoe, who was then starring for his beloved Sunderland side.
In an interview with BBC’s Football Focus to be screened tomorrow, Defoe said: “The story of Bradley is just special.
“He was my best friend and that was genuine. He loved his football, he loved me and I loved him.
“I could see in his eyes that it was genuine. There was nothing I could give him apart from just being a friend.”
Defoe, who moved to Bournemouth after Sunderland’s relegation, also reveals he keeps in regular contact with Bradley’s family on Facetime,
The 34-year-old said: “Obviously it’s still difficult for them but it’s nice to still be in touch.”
The striker also spoke of his visits to Bradley in the hospital as the cancer took hold.
Defoe said: “Even when he was towards the end and was really struggling, he was in bed and couldn’t move.
“Then I could walk into the room and he would just jump up and his mum was like ‘he has not moved all day’.
“For me, every time I saw him it was a special feeling.”
A particular high point for Defoe was when he and mascot Bradley led out the England side at Wembley against Lithuania.
He said: “That was the best. I remember being down the tunnel and he was looking for me like he does,
“I came down the tunnel and gave him a cuddle and Joe Hart said to me, ‘J, you walk the team out’.
“That was special. Then we walked out and we were standing there, singing the national anthem.
“And being back in the England squad and playing and scoring, for me that’s one of the best moments of my career.”
Watch the full interview on Football Focus, Saturday 12 August, 12:00 on BBC One