Bradley Lowry’s smile lit up the Stadium of Light. As a six-year-old football fanatic, he spent a lot of his time watching Sunderland and was like any other kid who dreamed of meeting his sporting idols.
At first, a mascot for the club in 2013 and then England two years later, Bradley proved that cancer would never prevent him from making a lifetime of memories.
When he was just 18 months old, Bradley found out that one of the rarest types of cancer, neuroblastoma, had developed inside his body, an illness which affects 100 children across the UK every year and one where the cause of the abnormal growth of cells is unknown.
This cruel disease largely affects children under five and, unfortunately, Bradley was one of those who had to adapt his life to try and mitigate the problem. For years he had to put up with constant pain, loss of energy and breathlessness, three of the most common symptoms of neuroblastoma.
When anyone saw Bradley on their TV screens, there was, however, a constant inspiring image of a young kid smiling away, from shaking hands of jockeys at Aintree, to a picture with the Chelsea squad, to walking down the tunnel at Wembley Stadium.
Bradley loved sport and sport loved him back. Here was a child who enjoyed playing and watching the intense competition, intrigued by the purity of each event. When his parents took him to a Premier League clash between Sunderland and Everton last year, you could tell Bradley was fascinated by everything from the blazing floodlights to the crowd noise.
Last December BBC Match of the Day gave him the joint goal of the month award after he kicked the ball past Asmir Begovic before Sunderland’s match against Chelsea. The name Lowery flashed up on the scoreboard, and the crowd erupted into applause in one of the most memorable moments of the season.
His relationship with Jermain Defoe sparked one of football’s greatest partnerships. Over a few years, the two formed an unbreakable bond and a video showing Bradley’s excitement of the news that Defoe had been called up to the England squad melted the hearts of the nation. He went to Bradley’s sixth birthday and also visited him in hospital when he was ill.
Football is one of the most multi-cultural sports on the planet, and the Premier League is a hallmark of diversity. But no matter the language barriers everyone from coaches and players to kitchen staff and press secretaries were inspired by Bradley’s resilience and indomitable attitude.
Sport, and football especially, is criticised for its synonymity with excessive transfer fees, abhorrent wage packages and standpoint on agent power but there are moments, albeit rare, where an individual encapsulates a nation through their sheer determination to prove the doubters wrong.
We’ve seen it with our own eyes recently. Jonathan Calvert Lewin’s goal in the U20 World Cup final saw England win their first international competition in 51 years while Claudio Ranieri inspired a generation of Leicester City fans as they topped the tree against the odds.
Stiliyian Petrov’s fight against leukaemia, though, perhaps provoked the greatest response. The essence of sport revolves around consistent competition and the idea that you want to be better than the rest and hold a collection of trophies at the end of the year. Petrov, like so many players, daydreamed about success and glory but, for him, that was to beat cancer so he could at least watch those moments and be proud of his teammates.
In using his platform as a popular icon, he set up the Stiliyian Petrov Foundation to raise awareness and develop a treatment for the illness. International and national charity football games have provided thousands of pounds in an attempt to save countless lives and improve those who have leukaemia.
Likewise, Bradley’s family have set up a foundation to help combat neuroblastoma and help other children with their battles. The specialist treatment for this kind of cancer is not available in the UK, but the hope is that enough money will be raised so other children have the opportunity to use it.
So, what of Bradley’s legacy? Sunderland may want to rename their Family Stand; a permanent feature to remember him by would be a fitting tribute to a brave young lad.
His family have also invited anyone to come to his funeral, asking people to wear their respected football colours to mark a sport coming together to remember one of their own.
Football allowed Bradley to smile and cancer could never take that away from him.