The couple who brought up football superstar Dele Alli after his own mother gave him away treated him just like their own son, the Citizen can reveal.
Sally and Alan Hickford unofficially adopted Dele when he was 13 after social services threatened to remove him from his mum Denise, who had an alcohol problem.
The youngster, who burst onto the England scene after starring for Premier League high-flyers Spurs this season, already showed talent as a footballer and was friends with the Hickford’s son, Harry, who was also signed by the Dons academy.
“Sally and Alan were amazing. They treated Dele just the same as they did their own son. They spent hour after hour watching both boys play, cheering them on, and ferrying them to training sessions,” said a friend of the family.
“In return, Dele adores them. They are his second mum and dad and Harry is just like a brother to him.”
This week Dele’s mum Denise told the national press she made the “right” decision to give her son away.
“I had to let him go to give him a better future, I knew that was the only way he could fulfil his dream of becoming a professional footballer.”
Denise, who lived in a Bradwell council house, said other children on the estate were “smoking, arguing and robbing.”
But at the Hickfords’ home in quiet Cosgrove village, life was very different for the young Dele and he concentrated on his football and his studies. He was part of a loving, supportive family and he flourished with all the support they gave him,” said another source.
The Hickfords’ support paid off and Harry is now playing professional football for MK Dons, while Dele plays for Tottenham and England. He is tipped to make Roy Hodgson’s squad for the European Championships in summer.
Meanwhile 19-year-old Dele is still in contact with his mum Denise.
Denise added: “He’s helped me and his sisters financially and has lots of love to give. He’s a great son.”