Former Blackburn Rovers midfielder Peter Whittingham tragically died after falling through a pub fire door and hitting his head, an inquest heard.

The ex-Rovers man, who died last year aged 35 and spent a year at Ewood Park making 24 appearances, sustained a head injury in a fall at a pub in Barry on March 7 last year. The former footballer had been out to watch the Six Nations rugby match between England and Wales when he fell and was injured at the Park Hotel. He was taken to Cardiff's University Hospital of Wales and placed on life support but later died.

A coroner said that "during a period of horseplay" with a friend and his brother-in-law Mr Whittingham "appears to have lost his balance and gone through or caused to open the fire door, fallen, and his head has come into contact with the steps”.

The former Aston Villa and Cardiff player, who represented England at under-21 level, enjoyed a successful 10-year spell in the Welsh capital, notching 96 goals in 457 matches for Cardiff between 2007 and 2017 and is considered one of the club's greatest ever players.

He also had a brief loan spell with Burnley in 2005, playing nine times for the Clarets.

Prior to the inquest into his death beginning his widow Amanda addressed members of the press and called for her husband to be remembered for all he had achieved.

She said: “I hope [our children] will be proud and comforted by their daddy's life and not overshadowed by details we are about to hear about his cruel death.”

Mrs Whittingham also provided a witness statement which was read at the hearing. She said on the morning on the day of the incident that led to his death the had been out for a walk before her husband went out with her brother Robert Williams in Barry.

She said: "Rob was going out to watch the Wales v England game at the Park Hotel pub in Barry and trying to persuade Peter to go with him. Around 3pm that afternoon they left to go to Barry together.” She recalled he hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

Mrs Whittingham said she texted her husband at 9pm but didn’t hear back and after she called later there was no answer and she fell asleep. She said she woke at around midnight to find her mum banging on her door.

Mrs Whittingham was told her husband had had an accident and had a “fall” and was in hospital. She was told he had sustained a bleed to the brain and needed an operation.

A statement from Mr Williams was also read out in which he said he had "no idea" what happened to Mr Whittingham but he had seen CCTV footage from the area inside the pub where the incident happened, which was in a corridor leading to the smoking area, and the clip showed a "play fight".

In a statement shortly after the incident Mr Williams said: “I have no idea what happened to Peter. I don’t even remember much of the following day.”

Ryan Taylor, who was out drinking with Mr Williams and Mr Whittingham at the time, said in a statement: “I don’t know if there was some sort of horse play but the next thing I remember was that he fell but I don't know how he got there or how he had fallen. I just know he had hit his head on the small step on the stairs.”

He added: “I was the first person there and offered him my hand thinking he would just take it and he would get up on his feet. When I looked more closely I could see he was not moving and something was wrong.”

Bodycam footage of the aftermath of the incident captured Mr Taylor saying “friendly banter” when asked by an officer how he had fallen.

In his statement Mr Taylor said he “must have been referring to the play fight”.

A statement by Nicholas Davison, a friend of Peter Whittingham and his brother-in-law Robert Williams, said that the trio were in a round together while at the pub. He said they had between “six and 10 pints” and a “round of shots” at the pub, adding: “All of us were pretty drunk at that point."

Alan Lewis, general manager of the Park Hotel since October 2019, said March 7 last year was “very busy” due to the rugby international match.

In a statement read to the inquest he said the group with Mr Whittingham were “all jolly and in good spirits” and drinking “steadily” but nobody appeared “overly drunk”.

At around 9pm a female customer alerted him to the incident, saying: “Someone's been knocked out." Mr Lewis said he went to the area and saw someone lying on the floor before calling the emergency services.

Blackburn Rovers fans, we want you to have your say.

We want to foster a community of fans who have questions they want answers to, points they wish to raise on key topics and find people who want to kick off conversations with other supporters, as well as us as journalists.

In order to get involved, you will need to sign up by creating an account using your preferred email address and you can comment away. You can access the comments by scrolling to the bottom of the article, or by clicking on the 'comments section' box at the top of any story (like this example) to auto-scroll down the page.

We hope to see you there, commenting away!

He described a “general confusion” as nobody knew how Mr Whittingham had been knocked out.

Mr Lewis said he then went to watch the CCTV, describing seeing “horse play”, and said he felt “satisfied there was no fight or any act of aggression”.

He added there was some “mucking about” but it was “good-natured”.

The inquest heard Mr Whittingham underwent an emergency operation after the incident to relieve pressure on his brain and was later sent to the intensive care unit.

By March 17 he had been off sedative drugs for a number of days but “neurological recovery remained poor”. He later died at 1.51pm on March 18. A medical cause of death was proposed as “subdural hematoma operated”.

Coroner Graeme Hughes recorded an accidental death conclusion.

He said: “On March 7, 2020, he attended a pub in Barry with friends and relatives.

“Over the course of the afternoon/evening he has consumed a quantity of alcohol that has likely impacted his demeanour and steadiness.

“Some time after 9.30pm he was in an area near the toilets and adjacent to a fire door leading to a corridor and steps and outside smoking area.

“During a period of horseplay with a friend and relative he appears to have lost his balance and gone through or caused to open the fire door, fallen, and his head has come into contact with the steps.”

After being transferred to hospital and undergoing an operation Mr Hughes said his condition “deteriorated” and Mr Whittingham later died in hospital.

Mr Hughes recorded the date of death as March 18 at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff and the cause of death as “subdural hematoma (operated)”.

Mr Hughes passed his “deepest condolences” to the family and friends of Mr Whittingham as he ended the hearing.