Jermain Defoe has broken down into tears while paying tribute to Bradley Lowery and admitting the terminally ill six-year-old only has “days” to live.
The former Sunderland player has forged a close friendship with the young Black Cats fan and mascot who has the rare childhood cancer neuroblastoma.
Defoe asked for two minutes to compose himself when asked about Bradley at a press conference on Thursday.
“He’s obviously struggling. I can say it’s a matter of days,” the 34-year-old said.
As he wiped away tears he added: “It’s been hard because I have kept this in for so long.”
Lowery’s health has deteriorated quickly in the last few weeks and his family have revealed the young boy is no longer responsive.
“Bradley is still fighting to stay with us. Nobody knows where he is getting the strength from or how he is doing it,” the family said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
But, on Thursday, they updated his page, saying: “Bradley has had a settled day, he is no longer responsive but we know he is listening to everything we say. He is fighting so hard it’s heartbreaking for us to watch.
“When the time comes there will be a update on his page first before anywhere else. Thank you for all your kind words and support.”
Defoe, who befriended Bradley while playing for Sunderland and described their relationship as the “highlight of his season”, has promised to keep in touch with the family who are from Blackhall Colliery near Hartlepool.
“I speak to the family every day. I was with him a few days ago and it was tough to see him suffer like that,” Defoe said at the press conference.
“He will always be in my heart for the rest of my life. There isn’t a day that goes past when I don’t wake up and check my phone or think about little Bradley.
“His love is genuine and I can see it in his eyes when he looks at me.”
Defoe, who is currently a striker for Bournemouth but has also played for West Ham, Tottenham and Portsmouth and the England team, said he had many pictures of Bradley around the house.
He said: “I have so many pictures around the house – even the house I’m in now and I’ve only been in there a few days. There’s pictures of me and Brad – going out for the first time against Everton and then throughout the season”.
Last weekend, Defoe visited the young boy after his family threw him a party, with photos showing the pair cuddling.
Bradley’s champion smile, in spite of all the troubles he has endured, has moved football fans and the British public. Defoe attended the Pride of North East Awards in May, where Bradley was named Child of Courage, and paid tribute to him, saying: “As a person he has changed me because of what he’s going through at such a young age.”