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Glentoran arrive in Detroit to turn back the clock 50 years

By Jim Gracey reporting from Detroit

Travel-weary Glentoran arrived at their Detroit, Michigan base last night to turn back the clock 50 years.

The actual time difference is five hours behind Belfast, meaning it was early evening rush hour when they landed in the historic home of the American automobile industry and music - Motown.

By the time they checked in at their hotel, the Motor City Casino in the Corktown district, named by the Irish carworker immigrants from early last century, the Cougar cubs had been in transit for 18 hours; leaving The Oval at 4.45am by coach to Dublin, where a 90 minute fog delay to their flight to Amsterdam meant a training run through Schipol airport to make their eight-hour Delta connection to Detroit.

Much has changed for this famous old club since a glorious chapter in their proud history was charted by the exploits of the fabled Detroit Cougars, as the Glens were know on their seven week tour, 50 summers ago, to help launch league football, as we know it, in the United States.

Read more: The tale of the Cougars' trip, penned by Malcolm Brodie

Those Cougars were Irish League champions, household names everyone, led by legendary Scottish boss, the late John Colrain, and match for most of the full time professional club sides from Europe and South America they faced coast to coast in 1967.

Now struggling on the field due to past financial woes and resulting current stringencies, the change of fortunes over the passage of time were placed in particularly sharp focus by the presence of two original Cougars, Tommy Jackson and Billy Sinclair, both now aged 70, accompanying the squad here to the States, and at the same time confirming class remains in the club boardroom, if not on the pitch, compared to years gone by.

It helps that the hosts for Saturday's anniversary game, Detroit City, are picking up the tab for the Glens' visit, as their forbearers did 50 years ago. But while club directors are paying their own way, they felt it important and appropriate to recognise the Cougars heritage by bringing along the two renowned former players and, in Jackson a Glens title winning manager, for continuity's sake.

Look at the old pictures of the Cougars, either in their teens or early 20s but already grown men in the physical and football sense.

Yesterday, on the transatlantic flight, an attendant asked members of this current Glens team if they were a High School side and then, diplomatically, advised they would need to show ID, to prove they were over 21, if ordering alcohol.

None was required.

Manager Gary Haveron, while recognising the chasm in playing strength from 1967 to the present day, is determined that this will be a professionally run trip and he has travelled in the hope that it will act as a bonding exercise as he begins regrouping and rebuilding for next season.

"It should also instill a sense of the club's history in the new players we have brought in and having figures from the Cougars era along with us will aid that process.

"Our young players will look up to Tommy and Billy and learn from listening to their experiences.

Arriving in Detroit at 7.00pm local time, Haveron ordered a light pre-bedtime meal for his tired troops while club directors were taken to a local bar-restaurant by their Detroit City counterparts.

Today the players will attempt to train off the travel weariness on Detroit's artificial pitch at the Keyworth stadium while a sight-seeing trip for the green blazers will include a visit to the famous Motown museum downtown, across from the site of the now demolished Howard Johnson hotel where the Cougars were billeted in 67.

Media and radio interviews are also lined up ahead of the serious business of the football, kick off 12.30am UK time on Sunday with a crowd of around 6,000 expected in the 8,000 capacity ground and admission prices starting at 15 dollars, around £12.50.

Again, it is a step into the unknown for Haveron as he breaks new ground with several just signed players set to debut in the showpiece.

"It's an honour for us all and hopefully this trip will provide a base on which we can build," he said. "We are here because of what those players achieved 50 years ago and that's a lot to live up to but we will endeavour to ensure the Glentoran name remains synonymous with Detroit for all the right football reasons."

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