Former Cardiff City midfielder Peter Whittingham died after falling down stairs at a pub following a drunken “play fight” with friends, an inquest has been told.
Whittingham, 35, suffered a traumatic head injury at the Park Hotel pub in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, on March 7, and died in hospital 11 days later after failing to regain consciousness.
On Tuesday, the coroner’s court in Pontypridd, south Wales, heard the former England U21 international had gone drinking with his wife’s brother and a friend to watch last year’s England vs Wales Six Nations match.
CCTV captured Whittingham engaging in “horseplay” with the pair in a corridor, before he appeared to lose his balance and walked through a fire door off-camera and fell down eight steps and hit his head just after 9.30pm.
Whittingham’s wife and mother to their two young boys, Amanda Whittingham, told the hearing he left their home around 3pm without eating since breakfast as he was in a “rush” to catch the game.
Whittingham’s brother-in-law Robert Williams said the pair and friend Ryan Taylor had been drinking lager, bitter, and tequila during the afternoon and evening.
But he said the evening was a “blackout”, and had no memory of the ex-footballer falling.
In a statement read to the hearing, Mr Williams said: “I would say that we were all drunk by the night. I really cannot remember anything much of what happened.”
Mr Williams said he found Whittingham lying at the bottom of the steps beyond a fire door in the pub’s corridor with his face to the side, and tried to lift him up only to find his body “limp”.
He made a second statement after police showed him CCTV from the pub’s corridor, in which he confirmed he is seen “messing about with Pete and Ryan” but still had no memory of the incident.
Mr Williams said: “I cannot remember any of the specific events of the play fight that is captured in the CCTV footage. I cannot remember being in the corridor and messing about with Pete and Ryan.
“I can also confirm I cannot remember seeing Pete fall, and only remember seeing him laying on the ground.”
Mr Taylor said he recalled people wanting to take photographs with Whittingham in the pub corridor, which led to steps taking guests to an external smoking area, but also said he had no memory of “play fighting” or Whittingham falling before he noticed him on the ground.
He said: “I walked over to him to offer my hand, thinking he would just take it and I would help him back up to his feet. When I looked more closely at Peter, I could see he wasn’t moving and something was wrong.”
Mr Taylor said Whittingham’s eyes were “wide open and were almost completely white” having rolled to the back of his head.
Whittingham was taken to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff following the fall, but his condition deteriorated and he died on March 18, 2020.
Dr Christopher Hingston, an intensive care consultant at the hospital, said Whittingham had a Glasgow coma score of three – the lowest possible score and meaning he was completely unresponsive – during his admission.
Whittingham suffered a subdural haematoma, where blood collects between the skull and the surface of the brain, as well as bleeding and swelling inside his brain, and was given palliative care before he died.
Coroner Graeme Hughes said Whittingham had “consumed a quantity of alcohol that has likely impacted on his demeanour and steadiness” before he fell.
He said: “During a period of horseplay with a friend and a relative he appeared to have lost his balance, travelled through or caused to open the fire door, fallen, and as he did so his head has come into contact with the steps.
“This has led to a traumatic head injury.”
The coroner recorded a conclusion of accidental death.
Nuneaton-born Whittingham began his career at boyhood club Aston Villa and was part of the club’s 2002 FA Youth Cup-winning team.
He played 66 games for Villa and had loan spells at Burnley and Derby before joining Cardiff in 2007.
It was while at the club he met his wife, Amanda, with whom he lived in Dinas Powys, Vale of Glamorgan, with their son who was born in 2018.
The couple were expecting their second child when Whittingham died, with their newest son born two months after the incident in May 2020.
Whittingham played in two major cup finals for Cardiff – the FA Cup final in 2008 and Carling Cup final in 2012 – and won a Championship winners’ medal in 2013 as Cardiff were promoted to the Premier League.
He made over 450 appearances and scored 98 goals in 10 years at Cardiff before finishing his career at Blackburn in 2018.