'He is like family' - How ex-City star Maddison lit up short life of brave cancer victim Sophie
PUBLISHED: 12:00 12 December 2019 | UPDATED: 15:41 12 December 2019
The father of a young girl who died of cancer says football star James Maddison has become "like family" after forming an unique bond with the youngster.
Sophie Taylor, of Sprowston, died in January this year after a fight with cancer at just five years old - a battle in which she became known for defiantly sticking her tongue out to the illness.
It was during the latter stages of her life that she also formed a special relationship with the former Norwich City midfielder, who was inspired by her fight and remained in contact following his multi-million pound move away from Carrow Road.
Now, as the England international prepares to face his former side for the first time, Alex Taylor, Sophie's father, has opened up on the impact Mr Maddison had on his daughter's short life.
Mr Taylor, 32, said: "James is like family to us. It is without doubt that we as a family have been able to find our way as positively as we can thanks to the love and support from James, his family and all at both clubs."
MORE: Former City star Maddison makes Norwich family guests of honour for Leicester game
Mr Taylor said the 23-year-old visited Sophie four times in the final 10 days of her life, helping fulfil one of her last wishes - to have a kick around with him using her prosthetic leg, which she called her 'magic leg'.
He added: "James was Sophie's favourite person in the world, she would always ask when she would next be seeing him and every time we mentioned him her face lit up. There was always a mutual love between them and both lit up in each other's company.
"She would wear her Maddison shirts everywhere, in hospital, at home, out, anywhere and everywhere."
You may also want to watch:
Mr Taylor, his wife Kirsty and their eldest daughter Evie will be attending Saturday's game and are hoping for a result that will keep all parties happy.
"Sophie was very diplomatic so I think she would have said she wanted James and Norwich to do well," her father added. "Perhaps a 2-2 draw with James on the scoring would be nice.
"Given current positions she would want Norwich to stay up and Leicester to win the league. She would want them both to win every week - just not against each other."
Sophie's older sister, Evie, was a Leicester City mascot for a recent top flight win against Watford - 12 months after Sophie led the Foxes out in the corresponding fixture.
"Sophie was a beautiful, brave young girl and the family are wonderful," said Maddison, now regarded as one of England's best young talents after leaving Norwich in a club record deal in 2018. "The first time I met Sophie she touched my heart and they've got a wonderful family so they'll be there cheering Norwich, and hopefully James Maddison.
"We've got such a close relationship to the point that every game Alex, Sophie's dad, will send me a picture or a clip of Sophie and me. It's a different one every game from all the memories and moments we had together, which is nice. That's almost a little superstition kind of thing now.
"Every morning of a game I wake up and Alex will have sent something over, wishing me good luck and stuff like that. I can't wait to see them again and it will be a special moment."
Maddison believes that bond will endure for life.
"I got close to Sophie and the family so it was heartbreaking for me. Now we are there for each other," he said. "That is something I will have for the rest of my life. Being there for Sophie's family at the most heartbreaking time, something no-one can ever really imagine and something no family should ever have to go through, even if I could do something that makes the family feel 1pc happier then I have done a good job.
"Sophie's family were actually at the Watford game a year ago.
"I walked out with Sophie as mascot and we won 2-0, a Jamie Vardy penalty and a James Maddison goal. Then they came again to the Watford game this season, I walked out with Sophie's big sister, Evie, as a mascot, and we won 2-0 again. Jamie Vardy penalty and a Maddison goal.
"There is something special in that."