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Norrie never had the chance to hug his wee daughter..but I know he's watching over her; EXCLUSIVE: Football star Norrie McCathie's girlfriend talks for the first time about his tragic death and bringing up their child alone.

Julie Gillies' heart missed a beat when she first gazed into the eyes of her Mother's Day baby, Jade Clare. For those sparkling pools of blue are a legacy - from the father the little girl will never know.

Julie will one day tell her daughter about Norrie McCathie, Dunfermline Athletic's star skipper who died tragically less than two months before she was born.

Norrie, 34, was a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning. He was found by Julie and two friends, lying in bed in the dream cottage the couple had hoped to make their family home.

Beside him was Amanda Burns, a local hairdresser.

Now, two years on, Julie has opened her heart about life without Norrie, and her battle to come to terms with the circumstances of his tragic death.

And as she shows her daughter to the world, she says: "Norrie would have been so proud."

Hugging two-year-old Jade, Julie adds: "She's a bubbly wee soul, really outgoing. Sometimes she gives me these looks that are so like Norrie, it takes my breath away.

"Her smile is Norrie's, and then there's this little puzzled frown, when she doesn't understand something. Right across the eyes, she's just like her dad."

Jade was born on March 17, 1996 - Mothering Sunday - in Forth Park Hospital, Kirkcaldy, just 10 weeks after Norrie's death.

Julie combined her own favourite girl's name, Jade, with Norrie's to call their daughter Jade Clare.

She says: "Having her was a bittersweet experience. I knew how much Norrie would have loved her.

"It's still upsetting now, when I hold her and think how her father will never get that chance.

"I have cried for Norrie, but I'm sure he watches over his little girl."

Two days after the birth, Julie insisted on returning home, but could not escape the constant reminders of her lost love.

She recalls: "I couldn't face seeing other dads visit their babies in the ward. But at home, I didn't dare take Jade out because of all the photographers hanging around, wanting a picture of the dead footballer's new baby."

Even more upsetting for Julie was the stereotype everyone associated with the man she loved.

She says: "The circumstances of Norrie's death, and the fact he was a footballer, made everyone assume he was some kind of flash guy with a big ego and an eye for the girls.

"They didn't know him like I did. He was just the opposite."

When Jade grows up, Julie is adamant her daughter will get a true picture of Norrie from her, his family and friends.

She says: "I'll tell her Norrie was a good, kind man, and he would have loved her.

"She was lucky to have him as a dad. That is all she needs to know.

"She'll have to decide who to believe - the gossips or the people who really knew Norrie."

Julie, whose father Andrew is a director of Dunfermline Athletic, first met Norrie when she worked in a building society near The East Port bar, one of the pubs he owned in Dunfermline.

She recalls: "I used to go in with the people from work, and we got chatting a few times.

"I was a big Dunfermline fan and I recognised him from the football. I thought he was nice, but we were just friends."

It was not until she bumped into him at his nightclub, Nicos, in September, 1993, that their relationship developed.

She recalls: "Norrie had a cracking sense of humour and we laughed a lot. He was also very laid-back and a good listener.

"That's one of the things I miss most. He really was my best friend."

About a year into their relationship, they moved into Urquhart Farm, a two- bedroom cottage Norrie had bought, just a couple of miles outside Dunfermline.

It was his dream home, but the couple had no idea of the tragedy it would bring.

Julie laughs: "It was like a building site. Norrie wanted to convert it, so it was being renovated.

"There was no kitchen, we couldn't get into the living room and there was no bathroom.

"We lived in the bedroom and survived on Pot Noodles, Banana Bubbles cereal and takeaway pizza.

"It wasn't ideal, but we were happy - always having a laugh."

WITH no immediate neighbours and a large garden, Julie says Norrie was in his element.

She says: "He had big plans for the cottage - like building a second floor and making the garage into a pool room.

"Norrie loved music, and wanted speakers in every part of the house."

They settled into domestic bliss, and Julie has many happy memories of their time together.

She says: "After the kitchen was first built, I got a recipe from my mum for tea loaf. I made it a couple of times on a Friday before a big match and Dunfermline won.

"It became a superstition for us. I made a tea loaf every Friday night before a game."

In October 1995, after the couple returned from a holiday in Florida, Julie discovered she was pregnant.

She says: "I'd never describe Jade as a mistake, but she was certainly a big surprise.

"Norrie and I hardly ever argued, but I suppose we were going through a bad patch at the time. We were just at a stage when you start to wonder where it's all going."

Julie decided to move out and found a flat in town.

She says: "I would hate for Jade to think I left because of her. That wasn't entirely the reason. I thought we needed a bit of space, to take a step back for a while."

Julie realises now that her decision may well have saved her life.

She admits: "Yes, I have sometimes thought how it could have been me in that cottage with Norrie.

"People have suggested to me that getting pregnant may have saved my life. I don't know. I guess it proves the point that everything happens for a reason.

"But can anyone give me a good reason for Norrie's death?"

Despite living apart, Julie insists she and Norrie were still very much together and looking forward to the future.

She says: "I think he was surprised I moved out, because he thought when it came to the crunch I would stay. But he knew better than to try to talk me out of it when I'd made up my mind.

"We still saw each other regularly and spoke on the phone every day.

"In the back of my mind, I could see myself renting out my flat and moving back with Norrie once the baby was born.

"He was very supportive and came with me to my hospital appointments. Once we were used to the idea, he got quite excited about the pregnancy.

"I started thinking up boys' names - I was sure it would be a boy - and sticking lists on the fridge.

"When Norrie came round, he'd laugh and say `You can't call our child THAT'."

ALTHOUGH Julie and his family were unaware of it at the time, Norrie began displaying the first symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning that Christmas.

Julie says: "He complained of headaches, but we just assumed he'd caught a flu bug.

"He came over on New Year's Day and we watched Ghost on video, which I suppose is ironic.

"At around 1am, he had to go, to check on our golden retriever Rory, who still lived with him.

"I kissed him goodbye and waved him off from the door. He flashed me his boyish grin and drove away. That was the last time I saw him."

It was only after he had gone that Julie discovered he'd hidden her Christmas sweets all over the flat.

She reveals: "In the days following his death, I was still finding chocolates behind cushions, inside shoes and under chairs."

Although they spoke on the phone through the week, Norrie's busy schedule meant they did not get to see each other. When he failed to visit as arranged on January 7, she phoned the cottage and left a number of messages.

The following day, Julie went round and banged on the door.

Her eyes fill with tears as she recalls: "He'd left his key in the lock, so I couldn't let myself in.

"Rory was barking and scratching at the door and I just knew something was terribly wrong."

Julie drove away to get help, but was met along the road by John Watson, Norrie's best friend, and a staff member from one of his pubs.

She says: "We drove back and John kicked down the door. I couldn't bring myself to go inside. I felt sick. I think part of me knew he was gone.

"Then John came out and I saw him shaking his head.

"All I remember is wandering around outside, the sound of sirens ... and me howling my eyes out.

"I went into the cottage and sat down in the living room. My Christmas card to Norrie was the only one on the mantelpiece.

"The bedroom door was ajar, but I couldn't bring myself to go inside. I wanted to run in and wake him up, but I couldn't move."

When John later told her Norrie was with another girl, Julie says she felt nothing.

She says: "The fact I'd lost Norrie was first and foremost in my mind. I couldn't deal with anything else.

"He could have been guilty of anything and I would have forgiven him, just to have him back.

"I've thought about it since and it hurts, I can't deny it.

"But how could I possibly hate either of them? They're both gone, and nobody deserves that.

"I hate the fact that, whenever you talk about Norrie McCathie, that's the first thing people remember - that he was with another girl when he died. That's not what I remember. I have lost him, and that's all that matters to me."

But Julie admits to feeling guilty about being the one who survived.

She says: "It's very hard to come to terms with being the one left behind.

"At first, I felt so guilty about the fact that Norrie died and I didn't. I used to think why wasn't I with him, or why didn't I do something when he started having headaches?

"But you could drive yourself crazy thinking of those things.

"I look at Jade and I know exactly why I'm here. She's my little piece of Norrie, and I couldn't love her more."
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:White, Donna
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 16, 1998
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