Bradley Lowery - the little boy who stole our hearts.
With his radiant smile, Bradley endeared himself not just to the North East but to the nation.
As he fought his brave battle with neuroblastoma, he lived a life filled with courage. He did it for years and most of it under the public’s gaze.
The world loved him and fundraised for him.
In 2014, schools, shopping centres, factory workers and pensioners held charity events after hearing of his fight with cancer. They have never stopped since.
He was still only two when, in 2014, he got a standing ovation as he collected a Hartlepool Mail Child of Courage Award - and looked every inch the public’s darling in the smartest of suits.
God bless you, young BradleyA message of love from the public
By the Autumn of that year, the incredible work by the members of the Bradley Lowery Neuroblastoma Fight Group had raised £220,000.
Christmas of 2014 brought the excellent news that there was no evidence of cancer in his body, and true to form, Bradley greeted the news with the famous thumbs-up sign he became famous for.
Early the next year, his family watched as he began his first day at school.
They watched as he proudly walked through the gates at Blackhall Colliery Primary.
Mum Gemma said at the time: “He was so excited to start, everyone knows him in the area. He still has to go for regular appointments at the hospital, but it is great for him to be able to have fun at nursery with his friends like any other child.”
But joy turned to sadness in early 2016 when a scan picked up a return of the cancer. Bradley was facing a new fight but the public made sure he would’t be doing it on his own.
His family campaigned to send him to the United States for life-changing treatment costing around £700,000. Money immediately poured in and well-wishers raised an extra £20,000 in 36 hours.
The campaign gathered momentum and by September of last year, his story had touched the hearts of well-known stars.
A host of celebrities got behind the appeal for life-saving cancer treatment abroad, including Geordie Shore’s Charlotte Crosby and model Katie Price.
The fundraising appeal went viral and others to support it included Sunderland Ladies and England international number nine Beth Mead, and Sunderland star Fabio Borini.
Sunderland fans also responded and came up with a personalised chant for the young football fan. Soon, “one Bradley Lowery” became a well-known song at football grounds.
The campaign stepped up further when Bradley was chosen to lead the team onto the pitch at the Stadium of Light for their match against Everton FC.
Fans were urged by the Sunderland Echo to “sing your hearts out for the lad.” Sure enough, they did exactly that.
Bradley walked on to the pitch hand in hand with his beloved Jermain Defoe.
Just before Christmas, a campaign was mounted for the little boy to win the Goal of the Month competition after he scored a penalty ahead of Sunderland’s game against Chelsea
But the news on Bradley’s health got worse late in 2016. Tests showed the cancer was spreading and his family was told they only had limited time left with him.
Yet despite it all, Bradley fought on and people loved him even more. Last Christmas, an astonishing 226,000 letters and presents were sent to him by an adoring public.
It took a team of around 70 people hours to help open them all on his behalf.
A new year dawned and Bradley continued to make the headlines. The audience at the Sunderland Echo Best of Wearside Awards were reduced to tears in January when the youngster won a Child of Courage Award and he and three of his incredible fundraisers received a standing ovation when they were honoured with an award in recognition of their efforts.
By March, the highlights in the youngster’s life continued when Bradley led the England side out prior to their 2-0 win over Lithuania then watched as Defoe scored the opening goal midway through the first half.
Then, he was a VIP at the Grand National and met again with his hero Jermain Defoe.
But by late April, Bradley was too poorly to lead out Sunderland at a midweek match.
It led to an outpouring of love from the public with comments pouring in such as “God bless you, young Bradley,” to “Poor baby, if anyone needs a break, this little brave man does. xox.”
Bradley reached his sixth birthday last month with his best friend’ Jermain Defoe there to help him celebrate.
Sunderland AFC goalkeeper Vito Mannone and club mascots Samson and Delilah were also on hand for a party which was decorated with Bradley’s favourite Marvel and DC superheroes - complete with a massive superhero cake.
Days later came the news that Bradley’s cancer had spread rapidly.
And only yesterday, Jermain Defoe broke down in tears as he discussed his ‘special’ relationship with the youngster at his unveiling as a Bournemouth player.
Blackhall’s very own superhero has lost his fight for life - his memory will live on in our hearts forever.