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Title glory about much more than sport, says NI-born Red

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Andy Kelly with the Champions League Trophy

Andy Kelly with the Champions League Trophy

Andy Kelly interviewing Liverpool star Trent Alexander-Arnold

Andy Kelly interviewing Liverpool star Trent Alexander-Arnold

Andy Kelly with the Champions League Trophy

A Northern Ireland man working on Merseyside for the last 30 years has said Liverpool's title triumph is more than just a sporting success.

Andy Kelly has seen at first hand the joy and despair that Reds fans have endured over the years.

"I don't agree with this saying that it's been 30 years of hurt," he says. "It's been an incredible time of ups and downs and some brilliant experiences."

The Coleraine expat moved to Liverpool in September 1990, just a few months after Alan Hansen lifted the First Division trophy. On Thursday evening he watched on from his home in Waterloo, north of the city centre, as the next title triumph was confirmed, thankfully ending his tag as 'the jinx'.

"When you put all of the factors together; the wait, the team, the manager who has become a figurehead for the city and understands it's about more than football, it's the perfect moment," he smiles.

"For the Reds in the city, it feels like this is their moment."

Kelly has worked as the Liverpool Daily Post's chief reporter and head of content at the Liverpool Echo. So he knows as well as Jurgen Klopp that the past 30 years have formed a story that does include triumphant tales of two European Cup victories but that features a central theme transcending the sport altogether. When Hansen raised the trophy on April 28, 1990 in front of a packed Kop, he was showing it off to a support-base still wrapped in raw grief.

It had been little over a year since the Hillsborough disaster, in which 95 Liverpool supporters had lost their lives; the 96th victim would pass away in 1993 from his injuries.

The ugly aftermath, featuring The Sun's infamous 'The Truth' headline, meant the most important chapter of the next 30 years was about a city's long fight for the authentic truth and a still ongoing battle for justice. It was indicative of a popular narrative that had blamed the supporters themselves for the deaths.

But in 1990 a campaign was already under way to clear their names, led by the families including the inspirational Anne Williams.

"So many people in the city knew what had gone on but every route they took to try and get the truth to come out was blocked by the establishment and ultimately by the government," says Kelly, admitting it is difficult to sum up the impact the disaster and subsequent campaign for justice had on the city as a whole. It would be 23 years before the Hillsborough Independent Panel's findings were released, prompting a 'profound' apology from then Prime Minister David Cameron for the 'double injustice'.

That was an "incredible moment for the city", says Kelly. It was more important than any league title and the major breakthrough of the past 30 years.

The campaign taught Kelly, who has found a wife and raised two children in Liverpool, just what the city and its people were all about. Other than the football, with title triumphs for both the red and the blue halves of the city, there had not been many positives to emerge from the 1980s. Back in 1990, the city was emerging from 10 years of economic disaster. The 80s had seen Liverpool's unemployment hit 27%, double the national average, even reaching as high as 40% in certain areas.

It is the other battle that has dominated the city's mindset; the bid to see Liverpool rise from the ashes of an economic wasteland. Yet, as Kelly acknowledges, it's a very different place to the city he first knew.

"Liverpool is pretty unrecognisable compared to 1990," he says. "When I first arrived, there was rubbish all across the city because the bin men were on strike. There were all these sorts of socio-economic problems.

"Now it's a fantastic European city, forward-thinking with an incredible city centre. The Liverpool of today has been through a lot but it's come out the other side. It's got a fantastic future and all of that is down to the city itself; the people who've always been here and the people who've come and found a great place to settle."

Belfast Telegraph