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Glens look to Cougars for better future

By Jim Gracey

Just when we thought we had heard them all, a new Detroit Cougars story slipped out as the US visa applications for this trip were being processed.

Invited as a guest to continue the 1967 connection, original Cougar Billy Sinclair caused palpitations when he hesitated over the dealbreaker question: "Have you ever been refused entry to the United States?"

And then the mischievous little Scot owned up: "Sure it was 50 years ago and they didn't have computers in those days, so I'll be alright."

Sinky was unperturbed, but club chiefs, keen to have him on board as a link with a glorious chapter in their history, didn't breathe easily until he cleared US border controls at Detroit airport in this most stringent of times for security checks and zero tolerance.

Only then could the story be told of Sinclair's detention as a suspected illegal alien on that '67 tour.

Today's young Glens players and their Detroit welcoming committee fell about laughing as Sinclair related how he, then aged 20, and Cougars team-mate Billy McKeag had slipped across the Detroit River to Canada on the opposite bank to get around the strict 21 and over US drinking laws.

Sinclair, now 70, had his audience in stitches as he explained: "We went over in a car with a couple of locals and on the way back they told us when the US border police quizzed us to say we were from Detroit, which I did in my best American accent.

"Then Billy McKeag was asked where he was from and he blurted out 'Belfast'.

"They pulled us out. We had no ID nor documents. The border police were not amused and the security situation then was nothing compared to now. It took six hours to sort out and then we had to explain ourselves to our manager, the late John Colrain, who was very big on discipline. At least now I know it still isn't on my record and I can come back."

Yesterday, Sinclair stood again on the Detroit waterfront, gazing across to the city of Windsor in Canada, but staying put this time with his memories.

Amazingly, it was the first time, too, his Cougars buddy on this trip, former Glens boss Tommy Jackson, had heard of his team-mate's indiscretion.

"I always wondered why Sinky was dropped from the next match," said Tommy, now also 70, and in buoyant mood with every memory jogged and sight remembered.

"It shows what a tight ship John Colrain ran. I mean, he was only at the club two years and it took the guy who wrote the book six years to tell the whole story."

The legend of the Cougars and their stirring performances against the top European and South American sides ranged against them on that tour to promote the game in the US, has been well documented.

But only now are their young successors hearing first hand of the camaraderie and escapades that are part and parcel of football tours.

They heard from Sinky and Jacko how keeper Sam Kydd was wheeled on a stretcher trolley back into their hotel at the end of a day's sunbathing, overdone as he was.

And the player, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, who left them as green as a Glens shirt with envy as a local beauty collected him from the team hotel in an open top Cadillac with chilled beer on ice for the hot evening ahead.

As they toured the city yesterday, learning its history as the home of the American automobile industry and Motown music, being feted wherever they went and presented with a Spirit of Detroit award at City Hall, you could sense a growing realisation among the 2017 generation that this tour has a purpose.

They are not only here to help celebrate a glorious chapter in the club's history as bit players, but like the Cougars of 50 years ago, to further their own and the club's development.

As Jackson told them: "Five of us went on to full time careers in England and Scotland from the Cougars tour and the standing of the club at home and abroad was enhanced for years to come. But no amount of coaching, training, DVDs and fancy facilities will make a difference if you are not prepared to work hard."

Fifty years ago, the city of Detroit invited Glentoran here so that they might pass on the football gospel. This 2017 tour came completely from left field, but everything happens for a reason and you do wonder if it may come to represent a turning point for the club in their present predicament.

If the 1967 experience works in reverse, an unexpected Cougars legacy could provide hope for a better future for the Glens.

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