Aston Villa youth product and senior team midfielder Peter Whittingham, who played for the England U21s and went on to earn legendary status at Cardiff City, died today aged just 35. According to the Guardian,
Whittingham had what South Wales police described as “an accidental fall” at a Barry pub on 7 March and had been in hospital with head injuries.
While it was at Cardiff City that Whittingham’s skills as a midfielder truly shone — his 20 goals in 2009–10 made him the Championship’s top scorer, and his 8 goals in 40 appearances in 2012–13 certainly didn’t hurt the Bluebirds’ successful bid for promotion — he was in fact a product of the Aston Villa youth system. Whittingham made his debut for the senior team against Newcastle in 2003, coming on as a substitute for Gareth Barry.
Unfortunately, Whittingham needed to come on to replace Barry due to a head injury he’d suffered in the 11th minute after a clash with Alan Shearer, who needed stitches and a head full of bandages. Barry made it to the halftime whistle, but manager Graham Taylor decided he needed to be replaced for the second half. Ergo, Whittingham’s professional debut.
YouTube has little on this match, which is surprising given that Dion Dublin’s second half equalizer struck a blow to Newcastle’s Champions League hopes, and helped Aston Villa ensure their survival. The Magpies did go on to finish 3rd in the Premier League, snapping up the chance to enter the Champions League at the qualifying stages, while Villa finished 16th, just 3 points ahead of West Ham United in 18th. In other words, Whittingham’s first match was likely pretty important to Villa’s future.
Whittingham went on to make three more appearances that season — the final three games — and become a mainstay in the squad the next, when David O’Leary brought the squad up to finish 6th, even on points with Newcastle, whose better goal difference saw them go into the UEFA Cup rather than the Villa.
Of course, many Villa fans knew of Peter Whittingham before he stepped on the pitch on that April afternoon at St. James Park. As a defender (apparently; correct me if I’m wrong considering how offensive his game became) in Villa’s youth team, he helped them lift the 2001–02 FA Youth Cup. The final match was a two-legged tie against Everton, whose squad featured a young Wayne Rooney at the time. Although Rooney scored seven goals in the run-up to the final, Aston Villa kept him to just one more (in which he lifted his shirt to reveal one that read “Once a Blue, Always a Blue,” which was clearly true). The Villa resoundingly beat the Toffees in the first leg, 4–1, which enabled them to walk away with the title when Everton won the second game 1–0.
Peter Whittingham may be a legend to Cardiff fans, but he made an impact at Aston Villa as well. The Villa faithful will remember you, Peter. Rest in peace.