Raheem Sterling tribute 'a pleasant surprise', says father of Damary Dawkins
By Press Association
Last Updated: 23/03/19 8:20pm
Raheem Sterling's tribute on the pitch to a youth player who died of leukaemia was a "pleasant surprise" to the family, the youngster's father has said.
Damary Dawkins died last Sunday after he relapsed twice following a stem cell transplant shortly before Christmas.
England forward Sterling lifted his jersey after scoring his second goal in England's 5-0 win against Czech Republic to reveal a picture of him and Damary.
The 13-year-old, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia when he was nine, played in Crystal Palace's development squad.
"It was a pleasant surprise," Damary's father Tony Dawkins said.
"I knew that they used to speak because [Sterling] came down to the hospital, they played pool together and apparently they swapped numbers.
"It was very, very touching and fitting. I know Damary touched his heart."
Damary had intensive chemotherapy following his diagnosis but, following a relapse in 2018, his family were advised he would need a donor, for a procedure which had a 50 per cent success rate.
A worldwide search for a bone marrow donor with Afro-Caribbean descent began and gathered support following a tweet by Sterling last July.
Although his transplant was successful, Damary relapsed and was admitted to hospital but died on Sunday March 17.
"I thought I had to do something to try to give his family something to smile about," Sterling told ITV.
Mr Dawkins said Damary's death had been "devastating" and paid tribute to his son, who played football for two years while undergoing cancer treatment.
"He fought to the end and I call him a soldier, I take my hat off to him. I've got nothing but respect for him," Mr Dawkins said.
"No one knew until I said to somebody that he had cancer, they would have never believed it.
"He never, ever complained, he never moaned, all the time he just got on with it and did what he had to do to.
"He never really thought about himself, he just thought about others."
A GoFundMe page set up to help Damary's family with funeral costs has received more than £3,000 of donations following Sterling's tribute.