Saying goodbye to Peter Whittingham – a Cardiff City legend
Today will be a day of mixed emotions.
With Covid restrictions lifted in Wales we can finally mix freely for the first time in 18 months.
As crowds return to football stadiums, there will be joy and sadness. Relief at last that we can come together again, but sorrow at those we have lost during a pandemic that for many has proven to be the biggest challenge of their lives.
At the Cardiff City stadium today it will finally offer the opportunity to say goodbye and pay tribute to a Bluebirds’ legend, a mercurial genius who provided so many breathtaking moments over a decade of loyal and unstinting service to the club.
Among the players to have lit up the pitch for Cardiff City over the years, it’s arguable that Peter Whittingham was the most gifted.
When he tragically died last March, we were devastated. That we were in the first throes of a global pandemic, made it seem even more unreal.
Few players possessed the preternatural skill and unerring professionalism that Whitts had in abundance. For me he was the most metronomically gifted player I’ve ever seen at the City, a player whose goals could take your breath away.
The uninitiated watching his highlights reel on YouTube would quickly understand how Whitts didn’t do ordinary, most of his goals were extraordinary.
HIs left boot was a laser guided weapon of mass destruction for the opposition, a mass seduction for the City faithful.
He could rival a volley onto the top corner from 40 yards as if he did that every day in training, which no doubt he probably did.
Audacious goals of which there were many were his stock in trade. Superlatives were regularly lavished upon him but they never changed him.
For so many reasons he was one of us.
Unlike many modern day players he wasn’t brash, overbearing or difficult. He was happy to be where people were happy with him, and at Cardiff he was absolutely adored.
Many times you would imagine that Whitts could have played where he wanted, with who he wanted, but simply put – he’d found his spiritual home and had no desire to leave.
That he stayed in the face of repeated transfer offers endeared him to us even more.
There was nothing showy or extravagant about him. He let his football do the talking and it spoke volumes of him as a character.
As such he appeared to be an anomaly. A player displaced in time. A throwback to another era where football was the gentleman’s game.
He had a quiet assurance and steadfast confidence in his own abilities. His unassuming nonchalance never bordered on arrogance; he was a man who every father would love to have as a son and every bloke would want as a mate.
He excelled with talent, grace, warmth and humility. Nobody did it better.
Seeing Whitts’ name on the team sheet you forever felt you could win, whoever the opponent was, such was his talismanic effect.
He helped us live the dream of Wembley appearances. Who could forget his sublime run with dancing feet to bamboozle the Middlesbrough defence before tucking the ball away in that momentous run to the FA Cup Final, or his betwitching free kick at Leicester City in the Championship playoffs that defied the laws of physics.
There were so many more of these defining moments.
This was football as poetry, goals were his lingua franca, his purpose – the joyful uplift of a crowd’s unrestrained exultation.
That left foot was so cultured it read Shakespeare, listened to Mozart and drank port.
You’d lose count at the number of times he would have you up out of your seat like a meerkat with a cricked neck watching him glide effortlessly across the pitch with balletic poise and grace, before delivering a ball on a sixpence, or rifling a shot into the goal when frankly he had no right to.
He was magnificent.
It only takes a minute to score a goal, it takes a lot longer to create a legacy.
Peter Whittingham will forever be a Cardiff City legend.
Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” You get the feeling all three applied to Whitts.
For many of us he will be the greatest Bluebird we ever saw.
He did what he wanted. And didn’t we love him for it.