During an otherwise dismal season for Sunderland, one young man has captured the imagination of not just Mackems, but the world of English football.
You'll be familiar with Bradley Lowery - the five-year-old Sunderland fan who is battling a terminal type of cancer called neuroblastoma. Last year more than £700,000 was raised for Bradley's neuroblastoma treatment in America, including a £200,000 donation from Everton. However, his family has since been told the cancer had grown, and that treatment would only give the wee man more time.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan earned the plaudits of Sunderland and all football fans for dedicating his Manchester United goal of the month for December to the young man, after Bradley knocked home a penalty at the Stadium of Light when Chelsea visited before Christmas.
Bradley's undisputed favourite player, however, is Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe, who has almost single-handedly kept David Moyes' ramshackle outfit alive in the Premier League this season. The 34-year-old has spent a lot of time with his biggest fan, and melted hearts last week when the following image was posted from Bradley's Twitter account.
— Bradley Lowery Foundation (@Bradleysfight) February 9, 2017
Defoe spoke of his sheer admiration for Lowery at the North East Football Writers Awards in Durham earlier this week, and gave a poignant account of his encounter with the Sunderland fanatic in hospital.
Jermain Defoe Bradley Lowery story
Defoe told the Sunderland Echo:
I have been in contact with his mum and said what day did we want to go and see him. It was a perfect opportunity to go and see him and it was amazing to see him.
I knew it would be hard, I have been through it before with family members but even then you struggle to understand why this happens to certain people.
To go to a hospital and see a young child in that situation was difficult but he was amazing. As soon as I walked into the room he jumped up and grabbed me and said 'get in the bed!' He got the covers on me, he said to his mum 'could you turn the lights off?' He just wanted a cuddle and to go to sleep - you can imagine the unbelievable feeling.
Obviously, it fills you with tears but you can't show your emotions as he is only young and you don't want to show him you were upset. It was an amazing feeling. I have been blessed in life and it is a great feeling to be able to give something back and make someone so happy, a little boy who is having a tough time at the moment.
Bradley is in my prayers every night. He is an amazing young man and I look forward to seeing him again.
Two great men.