Outside the Box: Finns did only get better for Enckelman, sinner turned saint

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The Independent Online

In goal for Aston Villa and Cardiff City, the Finn Peter Enckelman established an unwanted reputation for the occasional high-profile gaffe.

There was the first Premier League derby for Villa against Birmingham City, when he allowed a throw-in to roll under his foot, the referee deciding that he touched it and therefore awarding a goal; plus the mistake at Wembley that gave Portsmouth the FA Cup three years ago. First choice for St Johnstone in the past two seasons, he appears to have become more consistent at the age of 34, but he has an odd record this season.

Away from McDiarmid Park he is unbeatable, having not conceded for more than 10 hours since last April – a run that included a famous 1-0 win at Celtic and a 3-0 success last weekend against third-placed Motherwell. But at home he has been beaten eight times in four games – which will encourage today's visitors, Hearts.

Braintree storming ahead

The early Blue Square Bet Premier table suggests competition could be closer than at any time in memory, with no fewer than six clubs separated by a single point going into this weekend's games.

Luton, beaten in the play-offs for the past two seasons – and the bookmakers' pre-season favourites – were ahead on goal difference but the surprise package has been Essex club Braintree Town, promoted last season and one of the relegation favourites. They are managed by the former West Ham and England midfielder Alan Devonshire (now minus his flowing locks) and nicknamed The Iron, not through any Upton Park connection but because the club were originally known as Crittall Athletic, the works team of (steel-framed) Crittall Windows.

As Luton have found, promotion back to the Football League for relegated teams has become increasingly difficult. Since two-up and two-down was introduced in 2003, 12 relegated sides have failed to return, which could become 14 this year as the latest demoted pair are finding the going difficult.

Lincoln City, just a point away from safety in League Two in May, and Didi Hamann's Stockport County are stuck in the bottom half, though Stockport have shown consistency of a sort by drawing seven of their 10 games by the same score, 1-1.

Ferdinand is a class act

Never afraid to become involved in social issues, Rio Ferdinand has expressed his disappointment at the proposed closure of the senior school which he and his brother Anton attended before joining West Ham as trainees.

Greenwich Council are closing Blackheath Bluecoat because of falling numbers and debts of more than £1m. Staff protested at the Town Hall, pointing out that the decision comes only weeks after their best GCSE results, and Ferdinand told a local paper, the News Shopper: "Both myself and brother Anton had a great grounding there. The area is being regenerated and I feel the school is needed now. It would be a sad day for me if it was to be shut down."

Bolton's technicolour army

With the football film festival "Kicking and Screaming" under way in London, the makers of another potential addition to the genre remain optimistic about raising the necessary finance, 16 years after it was mooted.

Wartime Wanderers tells the story of Bolton's entire first team joining up on the same day to fight in World War Two and promises "a mix of drama, humour, camaraderie and romance". The sub-plot is that a 14-year-old called Nat Lofthouse joins the club the day after war is declared and the Trotters' greatest player scores twice on debut against Bury aged 15.

Since the film was plugged at the home game with Manchester United this month, fans have sent in donations and the Professional Footballers Association have also handed over a cheque. Filming is due to start in January.

Bordering on rivalry

Hearing Shrewsbury Town's 5,000 supporters at the Emirates last Tuesday chanting at a struggling Arsenal "Are you Wrexham in disguise?" prompted the question: does any other club has as their main rivals a team not even based in the same country?

s.tongue@independent.co.uk; www.twitter.com/@stevetongue

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