Peter Whittingham: The stylish midfielder who became a Cardiff hero

Peter Whittingham made such an impact at Cardiff that fans instantly called for a statue to be built in his honour when news emerged that he had been badly injured.

The midfielder, who has died aged 35 after falling outside a Barry pub on March 7, made 459 appearances for the Bluebirds after arriving from boyhood club Aston Villa in January 2007.

A dead-ball specialist with a devastating left foot, his swagger in possession and ability to make things happen soon won the home faithful over.

Whittingham, a laid-back and unassuming character, was regularly described as the best player in the Championship as Cardiff fought to get into the Premier League.

He scored 98 goals during his decade in the Welsh capital, placing him ninth on the club’s all-time list of goalscorers, and created many more.

An FA Cup final appearance and the heartbreak of a penalty shoot-out defeat by Liverpool in the Carling Cup final, as well as promotion to the Premier League in 2013, all helped build a lasting bond with Cardiff fans.

But Whittingham was denied the chance to give home supporters a proper farewell after walking off to a standing ovation in what proved to be his last appearance at Huddersfield in May 2017.

Soccer – FA Cup – Final – Portsmouth v Cardiff City – Wembley Stadium
Soccer – FA Cup – Final – Portsmouth v Cardiff City – Wembley Stadium

Whittingham could have stayed on under Neil Warnock on a one-year deal, albeit on reduced terms and with no guarantee of an extended first-team run.

Second-best, though, was something he would never have been accused of when giving his all for the shirt.

Looking back on his departure, eventually signing for Blackburn, themselves preparing for a new challenge after dropping into League One, Whittingham always wished he could have been given the opportunity to show everyone just what a decade at the club had meant to him.

“The biggest regret for me personally is the fact I couldn’t say goodbye to everyone surrounding the club, the fans,” he said in an interview with BBC Wales Sport.

“It’s something I would’ve loved to have done. That’s football, things don’t work out I suppose but I’m sure I’ll be back there soon enough.

Neil Warnock File Photo
Neil Warnock File Photo

“The gaffer offered me a one-year contract and he said: ‘You’re not going to play as much as probably you’d like’.

“That kind of rubber-stamped things for me. It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make to leave Cardiff after such a long time.

“I loved my time there, it was amazing. (Leaving was) something I had to do for myself.”

Whittingham was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, on September 8, 1984, and attended King Henry VIII School in Coventry.

He came through the Villa ranks, part of the team which won the 2002 FA Youth Cup.

Future Northern Ireland captain Steven Davies, Liam Ridgewell and the Moore brothers, Luke and Stefan, were also part of a Villa side that beat an Everton team featuring Wayne Rooney 4-2 on aggregate.

Whittingham was a left-back in those days but he would move further up the pitch, first for Villa in his 66 appearances for the club and also during loan spells at Burnley and Derby.

At the start of 2007 came the opportunity to join the exciting Cardiff side that Dave Jones was building. Michael Chopra, Stephen McPhail and Joe Ledley became team-mates.

Soccer – npower Football League Championship – Play Off Semi Final – Second Leg – Cardiff City v Reading – Cardiff City Stadium
Soccer – npower Football League Championship – Play Off Semi Final – Second Leg – Cardiff City v Reading – Cardiff City Stadium

It was the start of a love affair with Cardiff supporters and the Bluebirds reached the FA Cup final in his first full season at Ninian Park.

Whittingham scored three goals during the march to Wembley, including a stunning effort in the quarter-final win at Middlesbrough, but Cardiff lost 1-0 to Premier League Portsmouth in the final.

Cardiff suffered more Wembley heartache when losing the Championship play-off final in 2010 and they were semi-finalists in 2011 and 2012.

There was another Wembley appearance in the 2012 Carling Cup final when Cardiff held Liverpool 2-2 before losing on penalties.

Whittingham was key in Cardiff’s equaliser two minutes from the end of extra-time, as Craig Bellamy, then playing for Liverpool, said in his autobiography.

Soccer – Carling Cup – Final – Cardiff City v Liverpool – Wembley Stadium
Soccer – Carling Cup – Final – Cardiff City v Liverpool – Wembley Stadium

“The ball went for a corner,” Bellamy wrote. “Peter Whittingham bent a brilliant delivery into the box and Ben Turner scored. Credit to them. I admired their refusal to give up.”

Whittingham finally returned to the Premier League in 2013 when Cardiff, backed by wealthy new owner Vincent Tan, won the Championship title under Malky Mackay.

It was to prove a one-season stop, but Whittingham remained a firm favourite of the charismatic Tan.

“I watch every Cardiff match and I told them: ‘You guys have no confidence. Peter Whittingham is capable of shooting and scoring score goals from 30 yards, so have a go’,” Tan said to Wales Online in February 2016.

Whittingham ended his career at Blackburn, playing his final game in April 2018, but his heart remained in Wales and he continued to live in the Vale of Glamorgan with wife Amanda and their young son.