Soccer the new creed across US

Football is the religion that sweeps the globe, crosses all boundaries of geography, ethnicity and faith. Only the United States has held out - until now.

The sport has suddenly become so huge that America's Christian churches are feeling under threat. A spat in Milwaukee over falling church attendances because of the dominance of soccer in the lives of the local children threatens to erupt and expand across the US.

"Both children and parents feel torn between loyalty to team members and loyalty to their church and God," said a letter 31 Milwaukee clergymen sent last week to local sports administrators. Unfortunately for the clergymen, God is not always coming out the winner.

Soccer is now the number one sport among American children. More play soccer on a regular, organised basis than baseball, basketball and American football. The Milwaukee Kickers' Soccer Club, to whom the letter was chiefly addressed, runs more than 800 teams of youngsters aged five to 19. Matches and practice sessions, which most parents loyally attend, used to be held on Saturdays but switched to Sundays after complaints from the Jewish community.

"Families are having a difficult time choosing between soccer games on Sunday mornings and coming to worship," said the Rev John Sumwalt of the United Methodist Church.

Following a report on Friday about the conflict between church and soccer in Milwaukee, Mr Sumwalt was inundated with phone calls from radio stations and the major TV networks. "Evidently we have struck a national chord," he said.