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Dundee FC

How did Isla Fisher end up in Dundee FC strip in front of 3,000 fans at Dens Park open day?

Born to Scottish parents, the star of Aussie show Home and Away made a shock appearance in the City of Discovery.
Graeme Strachan
Isla Fisher won hearts at Dens Park in 1997. Image: DC Thomson.
Isla Fisher won hearts at Dens Park in 1997. Image: DC Thomson.

The most famous Australian to pull on the Dundee FC shirt never even played for the Dark Blues.

Isla Fisher – in the news this month due to her split from husband Sacha Baron Cohen – found fame on the small screen, graduated to the silver screen and starred in comedy blockbuster Wedding Crashers.

The actress had been invited, though, when she turned up at a Dens Park open day in July 1997.

Born to Scottish parents, the star of Aussie show Home and Away was a good sport and even donned a Dees top.

She went on to score an own goal, though, by admitting her dad Brian was a Rangers fan.

Isla, who played Shannon in the Summer Bay soap, kicked on from her show-stopping appearance on Tannadice Street.

She has starred opposite Owen Wilson and Jake Gyllenhaal and won plaudits for her turn in heist flick The Lookout, stealing the show the way she stole hearts that day at Dens.

Story behind open day

When Peter and Jimmy Marr took over at Dens in June 1997, a new air of expectancy 
and optimism swept through the club and its supporters.

Dundee were in the First Division and the Marr brothers set their sights on promotion to the Premier League under manager John McCormack.

The club could only sustain that push with fans through the turnstiles.

Peter and Jimmy Marr brought Isla Fisher to Dens Park. Image: DC Thomson.

They wanted to attract back a massive dormant fan base for the new season and organised an open day at Dens Park on July 12.

The brothers made it clear that they saw young fans as important for the future of the club and announced a big-name signing with a difference.

Isla played Shannon Reed in Home and Away and was in the UK on a promotional tour, after leaving the soap we all rushed home from school to watch.

She was approached to make a guest appearance at Dens.

George Shaw was among the stars who signed autographs. Image: DC Thomson.

The formula worked.

The 1997 event attracted a large crowd of 3,000 people.

Summer Bay star Isla Fisher star got a great reception in Dundee

Isla dropped in as guest of honour and received the biggest cheer.

She even donned a Dundee first team shirt but admitted that her Scottish family followed a team that played in a different shade of blue.

The flame-haired actress, who grew up in West Lothian, said: “My dad supports Rangers, but I think that’ll get me into trouble here.”

She was engulfed by youngsters and duly obliged by signing hundreds of autographs.

The Dundee fans cheer the appearance of Isla Fisher in 1997. Image: DC Thomson.

Roadshow DJs entertained the crowd and there was a bouncy castle, a beat-the-goalie competition, face painting and street entertainers.

Fans watched a training session, which gave them a first close-up look at some of the Dundee new signings before the players signed autographs.

Season tickets were on sale and, for younger fans, there was an opportunity to enrol in the Junior Dark Blues and a new Dundee coaching school.

Jim Hamilton signs autographs for the fans at the open day in 1997. Image: DC Thomson.

There was also a raffle prize of a meal for three with a Dundee player at the Stakis Hotel with door-to-door transport in a Bentley.

It was a perfect day out for fans of all generations.

Young Dundee fans had a day to remember

Daniel Smith from the Dee Archive was 12 when he attended the Dens Park open day in 1997 and has never forgotten the excitement.

“Back in the day, the vast majority of us had only the four channels, so it would be Neighbours followed by Home and Away while you had your tea – because who doesn’t like a good soap!” he said.

“Isla Fisher was a big star and instantly recognisable.

“When she was announced to be at the open day, you did wonder why she had chosen Dens Park to visit, but it certainly drummed up interest for people wanting to see this big Aussie soap star.

Isla Fisher dropped in from Summer Bay in 1997. Image: DC Thomson.

“Obviously, the majority were there to see a new look Dundee squad being assembled by John McCormack along with a few trialists.

“As a young Dee, we hadn’t had an open day since I had been attending games, so it was fantastic to be in Dens, watching players going about their business, especially then ones that had been brought in with the hope of winning the league.

“We also had the added excitement of one or two trialists, which back then, with no social media, always made it intriguing.

Former Celtic striker Jacki Dziekanowski was on trial at Dens. Image: DC Thomson.

“The photo with Isla is such a well-known photo because here’s this TV star at Dens, wearing a replica top which seems a few sizes too big for her.

“It certainly wasn’t James Grady’s she was given!

“Now she’s big in Hollywood and whenever she pops up in a film, I think Dundee fans of a certain age will certainly picture her in the Firkin Brewery top.”

From Batman to George Best and Pele

Star names taking centre stage at Dens Park is nothing new.

In December 1976 reality was suspended when Batman and Robin waved to the crowd from inside a Batmobile during a gala day held in the snow.

George Best was the main attraction at Dundee FC’s open day at the age of 36 in October 1982 and still proved a box-office draw.

George Best runs out at Dens in 1982. Image: DC Thomson.

He pulled on a Dundee shirt and played a five-a-side match and took part in a Superstars competition that included haggis-hurling and wellie-throwing.

Best rolled back the years in the five-a-side football tournament and his guest team went on to win the competition, defeating the hosts Dundee 4-2 in the final.

Pele arrived in June 1989 and delivered a footballing masterclass as part of his ambassador duties for Fifa ahead of the Under-16 World Cup.

Pele in Cuban heels alongside Andy Roxburgh. Image: DC Thomson.

He conducted a private coaching session with pupils from Blairgowrie’s Hill Primary School after they won a prize in a Fifa competition.

The three-time World Cup winner spoke to the pupils, alongside Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh, before showing off his legendary skills on the Dens pitch.

So Isla Fisher may be the biggest movie star to have graced the Dens Park pitch but perhaps Edson Arantes do Nascimento still tops the bill.

After all, could anyone else do keepie-uppies in a pair of Cuban heels?