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INTERVIEW: DUTV presenter Ally Heather on following Dundee United, his friendship with Sean Dillon, Scots and working on a farm in Georgia

DUTV presenter and Dundee United fan Ally Heather.
DUTV presenter and Dundee United fan Ally Heather.

If you’d uttered the name Ally Heather to a Dundee United fan six months ago you would have likely been greeted with a quizzical look.

Now, however, DUTV presenter Heather is a well-kent face among the Arab masses he used to blend into so anonymously.

The 31-year-old is passionate about the club – and jumped at the chance to host the pre-match show on United’s online streaming service alongside Sean Dillon.

Admittedly, he chanced his arm a little to land the gig last year as games returned amid the Covid-19 crisis, but you don’t live a life like Heather’s if you don’t take a few risks.

Born in Dundee but raised in the Angus village of Newbigging, his is a story that has taken in stops working in France, the Netherlands, New Zealand and even as a farmer in Georgia.

There have been times on the dole in Dundee too, a short stint working in a pancake shop and a while spent at a call centre.

However, his passion for what he truly cares about has always shone through, and he is relishing working with his beloved Terrors.

Taking up DUTV presenter role a ‘privilege’

Explaining how the opportunity came around, Heather said: “Laura McCallum (the club’s lawyer) put out a tweet saying something like: ‘We’ll have no fans at the game so we’ll have to expand our media’.

“I was living in Amsterdam at that point working in communications but doing presenting and digital stuff on the side.

“I just dropped the club a wee line saying: ‘Hi, I see you’re looking to do extra stuff and if there’s anything I can do on a voluntary basis just let me know’.

“A couple of hours later Joe Rice (United’s head of media) rang me and asked if I could produce and present a programme that will go out pre-match.

“The league started in about a fortnight and I was like: ‘Eh, aye?’

“It’s been amazing and all about everybody just having to pull together to make something.

“It’s a privilege, not just to make the programme, but also to speak to fans and players, etc.

“We have a feature called A View Fae Ma Seat where we get season ticket holders into empty Tannadice midweek and they tell us about their journey with United.

“Those kind of insights – the stuff like them telling us how their dad brought them along, their favourite players when they were young, scattering loved ones’ ashes on the pitch and all this sort of stuff.

“It’s a really good reminder of how much bigger this club is than just the result on a Saturday. Its impact is huge.

“My DUTV bit is a small part of it and I will just melt back into the crowd after all this and enjoy being back in the George Fox.”

Globe-trotter Heather has at times been displaced but still bleeds tangerine

Heather is thankful to the club for more than just the opportunity to work in their media team; he also credits the Tangerines for helping him get his life “back on track”.

The club had always been a part of him but, after moving abroad, Heather says he lost a connection to his roots that was only reignited by returning to follow United home and away.

He added: “I’ve been a United fan all my days. My village is very much a United village and when I was young that’d be the team I’d go see.

“But when I was in my teens I was way more interested in bevvy and lassies and going to organised heavy metal gigs in Dundee. I used to be a promoter.

“I left Scotland at 17 and it wasn’t until I moved home again that I really got back into United properly – going to away games and that sort of stuff.

Tannadice Park is home for Ally Heather.

“I’ve always been a real oddball – like I had quite bad mental health through my twenties and dropped out of uni the first time because I couldn’t cope.

“The reason I got through uni this time is because I started going to see United again every Saturday. That was this space well away from uni and the pressure of it.

“United has been such a big part of my life and I want to make this absolutely as good as possible.

“It’s not career-building or anything other than repaying the club.

“They’ve been so good with me in terms of getting my life back on track. This is my wee chance to put something back into that.”

Sean Dillon the reason why pre-match show works

As a young fan in the heyday of 2010 Scottish Cup-winning co-star Sean Dillon, Heather has to pinch himself as he does his thing alongside the United legend on DUTV before each home match.

Heather was quick to heap praise on the former Tangerines captain, insisting he makes the show tick.

He commented: “There’s loads of people that put in work behind the scenes but, honestly, Sean Dillon is the reason why this works at all.

“As soon as I got asked if I could do the programme, I knew we needed someone in and I wanted Sean.

Dundee United legend and current Montrose player-coach Sean Dillon (left).

“He’s the opposite of me – he has played all his days, he’s a club legend, won the cup, is currently still playing with Montrose and very much in coaching.

“His football knowledge is so present. He’s able to bring so much freshness as well as being the nicest man in football.

“Originally, we were going to bring in different ex-pros and just rotate them but Sean was just so good.

“It’s always just such a joy, the guy is class. He loves the club and that helps.

“I hadn’t met him before so it was a real heart-flutterer.”

The nerves soon dissipated with Heather and defender Dillo becoming good mates.

Particularly so after the Irishman broke the ice – and nearly a bone – as he fell jumping off a wall at the Shed end in recording prior to the visit of Hamilton to Tannadice.

Heather continued: “Funniest thing that happened in 2020, in my opinion.

“My auntie met Sean when we were walking in the street and the first thing she did was laugh at him for falling off the wall.

“Mum’s never seen an episode of DUTV and has no idea of how I pass my time but someone had sent her that link and that’s the only reason she knows him.

“It’s good to work with him, he’s great craic and he’s got such a lovely accent.

“I’ve got the weirdest accent on earth and it winds folk up, correctly, whereas he’s got this beautiful accent and really nice presentation style.

“He’s the kind of guy you want to be working with and watch. We’re trying to connect the fans and be a wee bridge between the club and the support in this difficult time.

“He’s the lynchpin and very much the heart of the programme.”

Promoting Scots language a cause close to Heather’s heart

Besides all things tangerine, Heather is a champion of the Scots language and picks up most of his other presenting and writing work as a freelancer in the field.

It’s a heritage and identity he is proud of and keen to promote.

“I have a Kiwi dad and a Scottish mum but I grew up with my mum, my granny and granda and the whole neighbourhood was dead into Scots,” he said.

“I was very much raised in that tradition. We were raised on Burns and folk music – my granda sang in the local folk band and my mum was a great Scots reciter and singer.

“My primary school in Newbigging won the Scots Language School of the Year when I was there.

“But when I lived overseas for about seven years I converted to exclusively speaking English because I thought I had to in order to be understood.

Ally Heather is a keen promoter of Scots.

“It was in the other countries, though, that I realised you can be bilingual so when I came hame my accent had gone really weird from living abroad.

“I’d gone back to just speaking English but I then went back to Scots and really committed to it.

“It’s not a work thing – I really want to celebrate this beautiful language that we have.

“I’ve seen the way that other countries respect their different languages. In New Zealand there’s English and Maori, in Georgia they have three or four different languages and in France they have a number of dialects.

“How come we’re weird about this? How come we sneer at Scots? It doesn’t get the respect it deserves in a lot of working class Scotland.

“It’s seen as a scummy language that you hae to get rid ae. I’m just trying to push the idea that it’s good to be bilingual. My passion for it is real.”

The Dode Fox Podcast lads have Ally to thank for award

In fact, Heather helped United fan podcast, The Dode Fox Podcast, win an award last year for their use of local Dundonian vernacular.

Hosts Ronny Costello and Paul McNicoll picked up a gong at the 2020 Scots Language Awards after Heather put them forward for a prize.

He continued: “I was a gun for hire for a bit but then I just started writing my own pitches and thinking: ‘What communities would I like to be representing?’

“I wanted to go and increase the visibility of Scots in Dundee, which I’m currently doing, so I went to find pots of money I can apply for to allow me to go and do my job.

Ronny Costello and Paul McNicoll have become household names among the United support.

“I try follow my passion as far as possible. I used to write for big companies but they didn’t need my help.

“It’s all freelance and mostly funding-based for things I care about and want to promote.

“I want to activate the people that can make the real change.

“The likes of the guys at The Dode Fox Podcast – I nominated them for an award that they then won for Scots Media Person of the Year.

“They’re the ones that will make the change. It’s the folk that are trusted in their community to use their local Scots dialect in a professional way in public.”

‘With Georgia I was really interested in the Soviet Union – that’s where Joseph Stalin is from, not that I’m a fan of his!’

Heather, whose brother Chris and soon-to-be sister-in-law Melody run the extremely popular Heather Street Food van that sits outside the V&A, has truly crammed a lot into his three decades on the planet.

However, he insists he’s never been happier than he is now – back in his home city and rising out of anonymity among Arabs.

“I grew up around here and at 17 I was working in a call centre and it was awful.

“Awful wages, awful flat, mouldy, nae money, nae fun and a big financial crisis so I just started travelling.

“I just kept on going. With Georgia I was really interested in the Soviet Union – that’s where Joseph Stalin is from, not that I’m a fan of his!

“I lived and worked there for a year – part-time as a farmer and a teacher in a local school in the countryside.

“I lived in France and in Geneva for a year teaching history. I’m doing my masters in history just now at the University of Dundee.

“I lived up in Aberdeen for a few years, too, and did my undergraduate there.

“I lived in Amsterdam until August last year when I came back for United. You can do what I do wherever you want.

“I’m very happy now, though. This is the first time I’ve properly lived in Dundee and it’s a great place to be.”