Thu, Aug 20, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Lone British bullfighter still risking life and limb at 67

AFP , LONDON

PHOTO: AFP

As if being the only British matador did not make him enough of an unlikely figure in the Spanish bullring, former butcher Frank Evans is returning to fight again at the age of 67.

Evans made made his farewell appearance in 2005 in the southern Spanish coastal town of Benalmadena, a serious knee injury from his early days playing rugby having caught up with him.

But after reconstructive surgery — not to mention a quadruple heart bypass — “El Ingles,” who turned 67 on Tuesday, is ready to do battle again and makes his official comeback next Sunday in Benalmadena.

“Inside, I am 25,” joked the man stepping back into an arena now dominated by glamorous, athletic young bullfighters. “I keep myself very fit and as long as I can cope with it I’m going to carry on.”

The matador, who lives in Marbella, near Benalmadena, is not fazed by being an Englishman in the deeply Hispanic culture of bullfighting.

“The bull doesn’t ask to see my birth certificate, so it’s the same for all of us,” he said during a trip back to his homeland.

Just how did a man from Salford in Manchester, northwest England, end up in a Spanish bullring?

Evans recounts his remarkable journey in The Last British Bullfighter, his autobiography, which hit the shelves this month.

His fascination with bullfighting was triggered by a trip to Spain in 1963. But it was reading the 1950s autobiography of Vincent Hitchcock, the first British bullfighter, which inspired him to give it a go himself.

At the age of 22, Evans left Manchester and work in his father’s butcher’s shop to start on his quest in Spain. However, becoming a fully-fledged matador would be a long and difficult adventure.

After two years in a bullfighting school in Valencia, he made his debut in 1966 in Montpellier in southern France.

“It was a success. I killed the bull quickly,” he said.

Despite his promising start, a shortage of money, equipment and honest promoters caused Evans to throw in the towel at the end of the 1960s. He returned to England to find work and settled down with his wife, Margaret, and their two children.

But becoming a successful businessman did not dampen his passion for bullfighting, so in 1979 he returned to Spain and seized every opportunity to get into the bullring.

His efforts finally paid off in 1991, when, at the age of 49, he took the alternativa — earning the right to fight mature bulls as a fully-fledged matador.

After his alternativa, Evans spent another 10 hard years struggling to make his name, until he received a call from a promoter who offered him a contract in Benalmadena.

Although he was well into his fifties, it was the springboard for his career, with fights in Spain, France and Mexico.

“Most people would have stopped fighting by then, and all of a sudden I was given my opportunity and after 40 years I became an overnight success,” he said, adding that he reached a career-high ranking of 63 in 2003.

Throughout his four decades in the ring, “El Ingles” earned respect from the bullfighting world and affection from the Spanish public.

Back home in Britain, his exploits arouse skepticism and curiosity, plus a tiresome reaction of “Ole!” and coat-swishing.

“The British are quite childish in what they think about bullfighting,” he said.

Some people go on a rant about barbarity toward animals, but Evans defends himself and recounts his experiences as a butcher.

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