LONDON • Bradley Lowery, who became one of the iconic images of last season's English Premier League through his friendship with then Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe, has died aged six, his family revealed on his Facebook page.
The devoted Sunderland supporter suffered from neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer, and had been receiving palliative care at home.
Defoe, who had touchingly been accompanied by Bradley onto the Wembley pitch when the striker made his England return after a four-year hiatus against Lithuania in March, broke down in tears on Thursday when asked about him, declaring his "best mate" only had days to live.
In an emotional press conference, Defoe said: "He will always be in my heart for the rest of my life.
"There is not a day that goes past where I do not wake up in the morning and check my phone or think about little Bradley because his love is genuine and I can see it in his eyes. It is special."
Confirmation of the 34-year-old's fears arrived on Friday.
"My brave boy has went with the angels today 07/07/17 at 13:35, in mammy and daddies arms surrounded by his family (with several heart icons)," read a message from the family on Bradley's Facebook page.
"He was our little superhero and put the biggest fight up but he was needed else where.
"There are no words to describe how heart broken we are. Thank you everyone for all your support and kind words.
"Sleep tight baby boy and fly high with them angels."
Sunderland - who had donated towards possible treatment for him in the United States, which sadly was called off - also issued a statement.
"Bradley captured the hearts and minds of everyone at our club with his indomitable spirit, tremendous courage and beautiful smile, which could light up even the darkest of rooms," read the statement.
"Despite battling neuroblastoma for much of his all-too-short life, he demonstrated a bravery and fortitude beyond his years that humbled us all. He was truly an inspiration."
Sunderland, whose miserable season which saw them relegated from the Premier League was given a brighter hue by Bradley's presence, asked for the family to be allowed to grieve in peace.
The child's courageous battle was exposed to a wider audience at the beginning of last season at the Premier League game between Everton and Sunderland as his name was chanted by both sets of fans in the fifth minute - 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.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN