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Showing His Stripes

Obideo Mojarro is a huge fan of Chivas de Guadalajara whose house is a veritable shrine to the storied Mexican soccer club

October 11, 2006|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

On a recent Sunday in Bell Gardens, Obideo Mojarro strung banners and flags along the fence and courtyard near his apartment. And not an eyebrow was raised when he brought out a few smoke bombs to enliven things.

It was, after all, the afternoon when Chivas de Guadalajara played Tecos of UAG in a Mexican league soccer game that had the state of Jalisco transfixed -- not to mention Mojarro and the few dozen friends who dropped by.

Chivas de Guadalajara, Mexico's most successful soccer team, is so popular that it expanded into Major League Soccer with its Chivas USA team. But the Mexican squad remains such a cultural force that there are large portions of Los Angeles where Chivas' red and white is far more prevalent and popular than Dodgers blue or Lakers purple and gold.

Which is why Mojarro's garage door has been flung open, and why a battered old sofa and half a circle of chairs and ice chests face inward toward the television set in the corner. It is a backyard soccer-watching party on a sunny afternoon in L.A. And inside, Mojarro's two-story apartment is a shrine.

Nearly every inch of wall space and every flat surface, even the ceiling, is covered in Chivas paraphernalia. Not only in the living room but winding up the stairwell and into the bedrooms. Even the bathrooms, upstairs and down, are not exempt. The decor is red and white, with some white and red thrown in for contrast. Think of an explosion at a Chivas de Guadalajara souvenir stand and you have Mojarro's home, except that everything is tidy.

Goats -- not surprisingly, since that's what Chivas means in Spanish -- are everywhere. There are four or five models and toy goats on each end table next to the couch downstairs. Others peer down from the walls, amid the photographs, the flags, the posters, the scarves, the clocks, the signed jerseys, the shot glasses, the bric-a-brac of every variety.

Who else has Bugs Bunny parachuting down from their living room ceiling dressed in a Chivas uniform?

It has been 18 years since Mojarro, 39, moved to Los Angeles from his native Ciudad Guzman in Mexico and brought with him the passion of his father and grandfathers, the passion of generations.

Collectors understand what drives him, but others might wonder whether he is perhaps a few goats short of a herd.

"They say that love is crazy, and if loving Chivas makes me crazy, then I'm crazy," he said. "But I'm not the only crazy guy out there."

And so Mojarro shows the visitors his treasures, proudly pointing out a signed jersey from a Chivas-Atlas game played in Las Vegas in blistering heat a few years ago.

"That means a lot to me, because if you put up with 130 degrees just to get the autographs, it shows how much you care for the club," he said.

Mojarro has lost track of just how many souvenirs he has. "There's not even space to put them all out. I'd say at least between 800 and 1,000, more or less," he said.

His most valuable item is probably the signed poster, brittle with age, featuring photographs of each player on Guadalajara's 1959-60 championship team.

Club Deportivo Guadalajara, the team's formal name, this year is celebrating its centenary. Chivas Rayadas, or the "striped goats," as they are known because of their vertical red and white striped jerseys, have been a part of Mojarro's life for as long as he can remember.

"When I was a child, my father and my uncles would get together and we would listen to soccer games on the radio," he said. "We didn't have any TV at that time."

Not surprisingly, Mojarro, a carpenter, heads the local branch of Chivas' largest fan club, Legion 1908.

In Los Angeles, Mojarro says it has about 1,200 members.

"It doesn't matter if we can't go to Mexico to see today's game, for example," he said. "Here we get together and we support Chivas and wait for a victory as always."

MLS' move to embrace this passion was greeted enthusiastically by Mojarro and Legion 1908.

"It was a dream when we found out there was going to be a Chivas USA team here in the United States," he said.

Guadalajara is the only team in Mexico that has never fielded a foreign player. For 100 years, every player who has pulled on the red-and-white shirt has been Mexican born. That is not the case with Chivas USA, but Mojarro accepts this as natural.

"We understand that now we are in another country and we can't be playing with just Mexicans," he said. "That's the only difficulty, really. But bit by bit we're sort of overcoming that."

Chivas USA players such as Ante Razov, Jonathon Bornstein and Jesse Marsch are being gathered into the fold.

The night before Sunday's gathering, Mojarro had strung up a banner at the Home Depot Center that said simply, "San Guzan" -- Saint Guzan, a tribute to Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

"All of them [the non-Mexican players] are starting to feel the colors," he said. "It's difficult, particularly for them, to be able to be close to us, to the fans, but we hope that someday they will be one with us."

Mojarro hopes that as spirited a rivalry develops between Chivas USA and the Galaxy, and he is doing his part to make that happen.

"All the championships that the Galaxy has won, Chivas is going to have them in much less time. We hope that the Galaxy is able to recognize that Chivas is going to be much more.

"We're going to be the greatest, just as in Mexico."

*

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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