It’s hard to believe that thirty years have slipped by since The Battle Of Bramall Lane took place to decide which club out of Sheffield United and Walsall would be condemed to the Football League’s basement. It was Saturday May 2nd, 1981, that horns were locked between the two teams in front of 16,001 worried fans.
It was tight at the foot of the Third Division going into this game. Hull City and Blackpool were already down and Colchester United looked doomed to so it was a case of The Saddlers needing a victory to survive as their poor goal difference meant that a draw would not save them. There was no indication in the first half of dour football as to what the latter stages of the game would bring with hardly any chances for either side. The worry for Walsall’s travelling army was that there wasn’t enough penetration from their team on the evidence of that first half as they knew their team had to somehow score and hold on to a lead.
There were a couple of chances for the sides after the break with United’s new striker Don Givens wasteful in front of goal. The game exploded into life in the 85th minute when Alan Buckley was brought down in the box by John Mc Phail and up stepped young Don Penn cool as you like to fire Walsall into the lead from the penalty. With Walsall’s fans praying that United wouldn’t have any more chances the referee deemed that Walsall’s John Horne had handled in the box in the 88th minute and a penalty was awarded to the home side. Don Givens stepped up but fired tamely with Ronnie Green holding on to his spot kick. Walsall hung on to remarkable 1-0 victory to save themselves but condem Sheffield United to Division Four. The Walsall Advertiser takes up the story of what happened next…
‘When the referee blew for time the jubilant Walsall players went to acknowledge their travelling band of supporters who were behind the goal into which Don Penn had safely put his penalty. From behind the goal at the other end of the ground surged several hundreds of disappointed and angry Sheffield United fans, all of them seemingly intent on venting their feelings about the relegation which was now United’s lot. The United team had quickly disappeared off the field, but the Walsall players, stranded 80 yards from safety of the tunnel into the dressing room-were easy targets for the lunatic element amongst the United fans. The result was the worst crowd scenes I have witnessed for a long time, with several Walsall players having to fend off punches and kicks from the idiots who no doubt call themselves football supporters.Hero Don Penn commented, ” There weren’t enough police to protect us, so we had to protect ourselves.” Alan Buckley, John Horne, Kenny Mower and Mark Rees were all attacked in the melee.