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Travel: Fun, food, football… Michigan and Detroit have Lions’ share

© Ross Crae Motown Museum, Detroit.
Motown Museum, Detroit.

Perhaps the best way to get a true all-American experience on a trip across the pond is to head along to sample their sports.

Sure, there’s an annual taste of a gridiron gameday on our shores when American football comes to Wembley, but if you’re after fighter jet flyovers, passionate support and a big dose of pomp and ceremony, you have to see the real thing.

Myself and two friends had a few ideas about where to go to take in a game or two, and plumped for the state of Michigan, near the Great Lakes.

Here, there’s the big city NFL team Detroit Lions, as well as hugely popular college football team Michigan Wolverines, who boast the world’s second largest stadium.

The fact that they were playing their big rivals Ohio state, during our Thanksgiving week trip made it all the tastier a prospect – well, that and the feasts that were no doubt going to be on offer.

Our base for the trip was Ann Arbor, which is located about 40 minutes from Detroit. Strangely, the public transport links between the two aren’t great, so a taxi trip is the best option if you don’t have a car.

It’s well worth the fare, as the city with a reputation for being pretty rough around the edges is a real treat. There are certainly parts that are gritty, but the downtown area could easily be Manhattan.

There are stylish shops and character-packed street markets, and a stroll down to the waterfront allows you to wave over to Windsor, Canada on the other side of the Detroit River.

© Ross Crae
Downtown Detroit
© Ross Crae
City streets, Detroit

A vital stop on any trip to Detroit is the Motown Museum, where booking a tour is essential. Hitsville USA, the small house that forms the famous record label’s first base, is like a TARDIS of musical history – small in square footage, but big on character.

Our tour guide Jordan was particularly enthusiastic, finding out where everyone in the group of around 20 on the tour was from to kick things off.

We were the only people from outwith the US (“you’re like a Scottish Temptations” he joked as we looked on sheepishly) but a nearby map showed visitors over the years had left pins on almost every country.

© Ross Crae
Studio A, Motown Museum

After a short documentary showing, the tour takes you to a gallery with portraits of Motown stars Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and more. There’s even one of Michael Jackson’s famous gloves, donated by the man himself.

Bizarrely, the most fascinating exhibit is a hole in the ceiling. Our guide tells us that this was used to record vocals with reverb and echo, demonstrating with his own soulful vocals.

The final stop in the tour is in Studio A, which is just as it was when the big stars made hits here. The musical output then may have been a little better than our group singalong to My Girl, but it was certainly a moment that will live long in the memory.

To whet our appetite for the big college derby game at the weekend, we also took in the NFL match between the Lions and the visiting Chicago Bears.

© Ross Crae
Ford Field
© Ross Crae
Inside Ford Field

The bustling Ford Field stadium is completely indoors, so you’re not at the liberty of the elements and all the noise stays inside the arena dome. Around the stands are a variety of bars and food outlets that put anything we offer back across the pond to shame.

Our post-match destination was the Motor City Casino, where there’s a popular all you can eat buffet. After queuing for almost an hour and a half in the huge complex due to it being Thanksgiving, we’re finally seated and let loose on the food.

The Assembly Line buffet isn’t just for Thanksgiving, with various themed offerings throughout the year. There’s not just turkey, but any kind of meat you can imagine, pizzas, sushi, veg and a mouth-watering array of desserts.

At $30 a piece, we certainly get more than our money’s worth and, not for the first time this trip, leave an establishment well-fed and thinking we might never have to eat again.

Elsewhere in this giant former bread factory is the casino area, if you fancy putting a few dollars on the line on gaming machines and tables that stretch further than the eye can see.

© Ross Crae
Motor City casino

But at this point, the high stakes were reserved for gameday, and Michigan’s big derby date with their neighbours from the next state.

Back over in Ann Arbor, those who had vacated the town for Thanksgiving returned in their droves the day before the game.

It’s a classic middle-American town, with a large student population at one of the most highly ranked universities in the US.

There’s a fantastic selection of bars offering a taste of Michigan’s local beer and bourbon produce. Ashley’s is a fantastic spot, and the bustling Brown Jug is a vibrant hub that’s taken over for the evening by fans of both teams.

For a rivalry that’s so intense – Ohio State, for example, cross out any Ms around their campus – there’s no danger of fisticuffs breaking out between rivals.

© Paul Sancya/AP/Shutterstock
Michigan v Ohio State
© Shutterstock
Ohio State celebrate a touchdown

Saturday noon is the big kick-off, so we set out a couple of hours early to soak in the atmosphere.

There are thousands of people around the ground, taking part in tailgates, where fans gather around the ground in any space they can find with their own barbecues, beer and team branded gazebos.

After a quick visit to the club shop and a hot dog or two, we head inside for our first look at the interior of the place they call The Big House.

Stretching out before us were rows upon rows of benches all the way down to the pitch, where the marching bands were warming up – both for playing their instruments and for the energetic displays that were to come.

© Ross Crae
Michigan Stadium
The huge attendance

The world’s second largest stadium, it’s an awe-inspiring sight. Hosting crowds of up to 115,000, it’s a fitting arena for this huge match-up between the soaring Ohio State and the underdogs Michigan.

There’s a flyover from US air force jets as the Star Spangled Banner rings around the stadium, and during stoppages in play college graduates and army veterans are brought out to receive their acclaim from the crowd.

A huge early touchdown for team Blue sends the place wild, but unfortunately the game ends in thumping 56-27 scoreline in favour of the visitors.

That doesn’t dampen our enthusiasm though, with this bucket list spectacle ticked off the list. Now to think of the next one… baseball anyone?