Jermain Defoe and ‘best mate’ Bradley Lowery lead England out against Lithuania

Mark Critchley
The Independent
Bradley Lowery holding Jermain Defoe's hand before kick-off: Getty
Bradley Lowery holding Jermain Defoe's hand before kick-off: Getty

Jermain Defoe and his ‘best mate’ Bradley Lowery led Gareth Southgate’s England out for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania on his return to international football.

The Sunderland striker, making his first appearance for the national team in three-and-a-half years, held the hand of the five-year-old Bradley, who suffers from a rare form of cancer known as neuroblastoma.

Defoe has struck an accord with the Sunderland-supporting youngster and, along with team-mates John O’Shea, Vito Mannone and Sebastian Larsson, visited him in hospital last month.

An image of Defoe holding a sleeping Bradley in his arms was shared widely on social media after the visit, and the same image now adorns Defoe’s locker at Sunderland’s training ground.

“I’m blessed to be in a position where I can make someone feel that way,” Defoe told The Times following his visit to Bradley’s hospital bedside.

“People say football’s just a game. I’ve been lucky enough to have this gift and doing something I love, and touching so many lives, little kids that are ill.”

Defoe went on to open the scoring for England, converting Raheem Sterling’s cross in the 21st minute.

Bradley’s appearance as a mascot for the Lithuania game is part of his family’s attempt to create as many happy memories for the youngster as possible, after doctors confirmed last year that his cancer was terminal.

In January, Bradley won the BBC’s goal of the month award after scoring a penalty past Chelsea’s Asmir Begovic in the pre-match buid-up Sunderland’s 1-0 defeat to the Premier League leaders.

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