A former Premier League football star died when he fell down stairs in a pub after play-fighting with his brother-in-law during an all-day drinking session, an inquest heard today.
Ex-Cardiff City and Aston Villa ace Peter Whittingham, 35, suffered a serious head injury after tumbling down stairs leading to a beer garden in Barry, South Wales in March last year.
Mr Whittingham was rushed to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff and put on a life support machine, but tragically died more than a week later.
The father-of-two was ‘happy drunk’ after spending the day drinking and watching rugby on TV with family and friends, the inquest in Pontypridd heard.
It was said there was ‘friendly banter’ and ‘horseplay’ in the corridor after the retired footballer had downed up to ten pints and a round of shots.
Pictured: Mr Whittingham is seen at the pub in Barry, Wales on another occasion
Customers who raised the alarm with staff said Mr Whittingham had been ‘punched and knocked out,’ but a police investigation ruled out a malicious assault.
Detective Constable Stephen Jenkins told the hearing: ‘CCTV showed the men were play fighting – it was lighthearted and playful which involved no malice.
‘All are evidently smiling throughout.’
South Wales central coroner Graeme Hughes recorded an accidental verdict saying Mr Whittingham had lost his balance and fallen after consuming alcohol which had ‘impacted on his demeanour and steadiness.’
The inquest heard Mr Whittingham was play-fighting with his brother-in-law Robert Williams and friend Ryan Taylor who were both later interviewed by police.
Mr Williams said in a statement: ‘We were all drunk by the end of the night – I can’t remember much of what happened.
‘I came out of the toilets and I could see Peter was on the floor – I tried to lift him up but he was limp.’
Peter Whittingham (pictured playing for the England Under-21s) suffered a serious head injury after tumbling down stairs leading to a beer garden in Barry, South Wales in March last year
Pictured: Wes Morgan, Kasper Schmeichel, Peter Whittingham and Wes Hoolahan with their Team Of the Decade Awards during the Football League Awards 2015
The inquest heard Mr Whittingham went through a fire door and hit his head after falling down eight steps on March 7.
His friend Mr Taylor told the hearing: ‘The next thing I remember is Peter was on the floor – I can’t say how he got there.
‘I offered him my hand thinking he would take it and I would help him up. But when I looked down I could see something was wrong.
‘Both of his eyes were open, they were white and had rolled back into his head.’
Mr Whittingham died 11 days later at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff when his life support machine was turned off.
His widow Amanda, 32, was seven months pregnant at the time of the tragedy and later gave birth to a baby boy.
Before the hearing, she told of her hopes that when he and his older brother are old enough they will be proud of their father’s many achievements.
She said: ‘I hope they will not be overshadowed by his cruel death – please support me in that.’
The tragedy took place after property developer Mr Whittingham had watched the England v Wales Six Nations rugby match at his favourite pub last year.
Pub manager Alan Lewis told the hearing: ‘Everyone was in good spirits but no one appeared overly drunk.
Former Cardiff City midfielder Peter Whittingham tragically died at the age of 35 last March
Whittingham, pictured in November 2018, passed away after falling down the stairs at a pub
‘I was satisfied there was no aggression. There was some horseplay with Mr Whittingham and his brother-in-law – they were mucking about.’
The inquest heard Mr Whittingham died of a subdural haematoma on March 18.
Cardiff City fans described Mr Whittingham as a legend after he spent ten years at the club, winning promotion to the Premiership and appearing in an FA Cup final.
It was the second tragedy to hit the Championship club after their new star striker Emilliano Sala died in a plane crash two years ago.
Mr Whittingham retired from football in 2019 and was running a property development business with wife Amanda from their £1.5million home in the Vale of Glamorgan.
His former club Cardiff City said in a statement: ‘We are heartbroken. Peter’s sudden and untimely passing has shaken us to our very foundation.
‘Our love goes out to his wife Amanda, their young son and family.
Pictured: The dance floor at Mr Whittingham’s wedding to his partner Amanda in 2015
‘First and foremost, Peter was a family man – and somebody who could light up a room with his sense of humour, warmth and personality.
‘Then, as a professional footballer – as a Bluebird – he excelled with talent, ease, grace and humility. Nobody did it better.
‘The loss of Peter will be painfully felt by our city, supporters and indeed all who ever had the pleasure of knowing him. We love you Pete and your memory will eternally stay with us.’
Former England Under 21 international Mr Whittingham retired in 2019 after a season with Blackburn Rovers.
But Cardiff fans regard the skilful midfielder as one of their own and campaigned to give him a testimonial match in recognition of his loyalty.
Mr Whittingham was known as the ‘shy assassin’ and refused to celebrate scoring a goal saying it wasn’t cool.
He was twice voted Cardiff City’s player of the year and clocked up 413 appearances for the Welsh club, scoring 85 goals.
He was voted the best player outside the Premier League in 2011.