- He's Atlas' most beloved fan
- His family are his mainstay
- "You can always pull through"
Perhaps no other fan in the world feels football as intensely as Don Pepe. Despite being born deaf and losing his sight at 30, he has shown that you need neither sight nor hearing to passionately support your club – in his case Mexico’s Atlas – just love and the support of your family.
"I remember that, in the area where I lived (Tlaquepaque, Jalisco), there were people playing at a nearby club. Later I learned that they’d relocated to the Estadio Jalisco, and so it was that little by little my love for Atlas began to grow," he says in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
As the effects of Usher Syndrome, as his condition is known, worsened over time, the burden became heavier for Don Pepe, whose real name is Jose de Jesus Loera. Accustomed to watching games from the upper stands of the Jalisco, the players began to appear more and more blurry until the cruel and relentless progress of his illness became a seemingly insurmountable barrier between him and his passion for Los Zorros.
"That feeling when they score... I couldn’t actually see them scoring, but I could feel the people celebrating. But it was contagious, and I’d jump up too; I could feel the vibrations. But then, when I was only able to watch them on TV at home, I no longer felt the vibration you get from being in the stadium and among the fans."
Jose de Jesus found love with his wife Adriana, and their children Adrian and Omar became his light, rekindling his passion for football and Atlas.
For them, it is all about the unconditional love they have for their father and their quest to make him happy: "What we wanted was for him to be able to jump up and celebrate whenever Atlas scored – for him to be able to react like everyone else in the stadium. It was simply for him. We're primarily going to the stadium to take papá," says 19-year-old Omar.
Don Pepe confirms as much, saying: "When my children grew up, they started learning sign language and adapting it to football. That helped me get back to the stadium. Increasingly people would turn around to look at us or say how unusual it was to see a deaf and blind fan at a stadium anywhere in the world."
Since then, he has become something of a favourite fan at the club. "That's when the TV cameras first picked us out without our realising it and when people first became really aware of us."
"Little by little people began greeting me in the street, telling me I was Atlas' number one fan. I was moved because they constantly made me feel part of the team, a fundamental part of Atlas. People recognised me as a supporter, a loyal fan, another member of Atlas," says Don Pepe, who every year receives a season ticket from the club and regularly gets to attend training sessions and meet the players.
Inspiration for the world
Despite life's obstacles, Don Pepe radiates happiness and enthusiasm. So much so that he sometimes shares his story to help inspire others.
"I currently do a lot about the house: I cook meals and I also wash clothes or the dishes. Before the pandemic, I used to go to an association, where I gave motivational talks to companies and schools as well as awareness workshops on how to help people with deafness-blindness. So I would share my story to spread encouragement that you can always overcome obstacles."
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented him from going to games, which has understandably dampened his spirits. Fortunately in Mexico, professional football has now restarted, with his beloved Atlas set to face Pumas UNAM in their first home fixture of the new championship.
"We’re prepared and raring to go. And, of course, we're with Los Zorros. We have to be positive ahead of what will be a strange tournament, because, even if we can't be in the stadium, we have to be happy. We're all going to make it through this pandemic together."
And once again Don Pepe will be watching his team from his TV. But, unlike many years ago, his children will be with him to once again show the immense power of familial love and that, after all, football is almost always spoken from the heart.