The funeral of Bradley Lowery, one of the iconic faces of last season’s Premier League season as the devoted Sunderland fan battled a rare form of cancer, drew thousands of mourners onto the streets on Friday.
Lowery died last Friday aged just six of neuroblastoma, and his parents wore football shirts to the service to honour his love of the sport.
England striker Jermain Defoe, who formed a special attachment with Lowery during his time at Sunderland, flew back from his new club Bournemouth’s training camp in Spain to attend the funeral of his “best mate”.
The 34-year-old striker dressed in an England shirt broke down in tears following the funeral.
Bradley’s mother Gemma paid a moving final tribute to him at the service saying he had “a smile so big and beautiful it could brighten any room” and described him as a “real brave superhero”.
“For now, my baby, we’ll say goodbye, we’ll meet again our superhero high up in the sky”.
Balloons and tributes adorned the roads leading to the church where the service took place, in the village of Blackhall Colliery in the north-east of England.
A bag-piper preceded a horse-drawn carriage bearing Bradley’s coffin as it wound its way down streets lined with mourners largely wearing football shirts — honouring a request from his family — with the attendance so huge they were lined three deep according to the BBC.
Following the carriage were Gemma and father Carl — also dressed in football shirts — whilst Defoe was just behind them and people dressed up as Batman, Spider-Man and Captain America accompanied the procession.
Some Sunderland players and members of staff also were part of the procession which passed by his former school where teachers and pupils lined up with many in tears.
The service — which the family had said was ‘open to everyone’ and was broadcast on speakers for those who couldn’t access the church — was followed by a private ceremony at a crematorium.
Hundreds of tributes were also on view outside Sunderland’s Stadium of Light.
Football players and clubs from across the world also posted tributes online to the youngster.
– ‘We’ll never forget your courage’ –
Spanish club Villareal posted: “Forever Bradley Lowery. We’ll never forget your courage. Rest in peace dear fighter.”
A vigil and minute’s applause took place in Newcastle city centre at the same time as the funeral, while balloons were released at noon (1100GMT) at Sunderland’s ground.
Lowery was first diagnosed with the cancer when he was just 18 months old and his courageous battle was exposed to a wider audience at the beginning of last season.
At the Premier League game between Everton and Sunderland his name was chanted by both sets of fans in the fifth minute — as he was then five — and Everton then donated generously to the fund for his proposed treatment in the United States.
The funds raised will now be placed in a foundation in his name, according to Sunderland.
Despite his failing health his spirit and resilience were remarkable and he went on to jointly win the BBC Premier League goal of the month competition in December — converting a penalty past Chelsea reserve goalkeeper Asmir Begovic at half-time of their game.
He subsequently received 250,000 Christmas cards.
Defoe was a regular visitor to his home and he and Lowery were given the honour of being listed on the race card for the world’s most famous steeplechase, the Grand National, in April this year.
The race organisers allocated them number 41 on the card — 40 are legally allowed to race — with the youngster listed as the jockey and Defoe as the trainer, and naturally the silks (colours) were the red and white stripes of Sunderland.
Sadly things by that stage had deteriorated further with a new tumour detected at the base of his spine.
By the time his sixth birthday had come round last month Lowery was back in hospital but Defoe celebrated it with him once he was discharged. Punch