A rising star of Manchester United and England was twice the legal drink-drive limit when he crashed at 120mph on his way to a match and died, an inquest heard yesterday.
Jimmy Davis, 21, was on loan to Watford from Manchester United. He was travelling to Watford's opening game of the season against Coventry City when his car hit the back of a 32-ton articulated lorry on the M40 in Oxfordshire in August last year. Witnesses and police estimated his BMW 3-series was travelling at up to 120mph in patchy fog without fog lights.
His death robbed United of one of their most exciting young players. Davis was a regular with the England under-20s, and wore the No 7 shirt which was the trademark of his idol, Eric Cantona.
The player was on a year's loan to Watford - a move seen as another step towards United's first team - but would not have played on the day of his death because he was recovering from an injury.
Davis's frustration with not making the starting line-up may have explained the actions which led to his death, Timothy Wilkes, his best friend who had known him for 12 years, told the Oxford inquest.
He and Davis had spent the evening before the crash drinking at a nightclub and Davis would have had time for only a few hours' sleep at most before leaving for Watford in the early hours. Before he left the home he shared with his mother and stepfather home in Redditch, Worcestershire, he had telephoned Melissa Coupe, his long-term girlfriend. She told the inquest: "He never said where he was but he said he was going to bed."
PC Richard Medway said Davis's family believed he drove early so he could avoid traffic and get a decent sleep at the air-conditioned hotel in Watford because the night was so hot.
Paulo Dos Santos, a lorry driver from Portugal, said he was travelling south at about 4.30am down the M40, when he felt an impact which made his vehicle shudder. The car was embedded halfway into the lorry and dragged for more than 300 yards, scattering debris.
Some 500 people attended Davis' funeral in Worcestershire, including Sir Alex Ferguson and David Beckham and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
Davis joined United as a trainee in 1999, made his first team debut in 2001 in the Worthington Cup against Arsenal and was given a substitute's place for United's Champions' League away match with Deportivo La Coruña in March last year. He was "a player with real potential and great promise", Sir Alex said.
A week before his death, Davis said: "I used to love playing with Cantona. He was a big influence on me even though I just saw him in training. Playing with the world-class players at United you see things and think, 'I must try that'. It is a great place to learn your trade."
Nicholas Gardiner, the Oxfordshire coroner, recorded a verdict of accidental death.