Page last updated at 09:27 GMT, Monday, 31 August 2009 10:27 UK

British matador returns to the ring

By Steve Kingstone
BBC News, Benalmadena, Costa del Sol

Frank Evans
Frank Evans has returned to the bullfighting ring aged 67

Sixty-seven year old Frank Evans could never be accused of being coy with his words.

What, I asked, would he say to people who were opposed to his chosen profession of bullfighting?

"I've heard it all my life, and they don't know what they're talking about," shot back the grandfather of five.

But seriously, I persisted, what would he say in response to their heartfelt objections to bullfighting on grounds of animal cruelty?

"The people who are opposed generally come from a sheltered background," he surmised. "They say they're shocked by bullfighting, but I can assure you they'd be just as shocked if they went into a slaughterhouse."

Himself the son of a Salford butcher, Evans is not a man to mince his words.

Born in August 1942, his CV presents a colourful list of occasional occupations - butcher's assistant, driving instructor, rugby player, boxing coach, and even personal assistant to George Best.

But all were a means to an end, to provide enough funds for Evans to pursue his dream - to become a fully-fledged matador.

When you see me walking across the ring with a walking stick, I'll probably be convinced it's time to stop
Frank Evans

He trained in Valencia in the 1960s, when General Franco still ruled Spain, and finally won the right to challenge top weight fighting bulls in 1991.

We met several hours before his comeback fight, in the Andalucian holiday town of Benalmadena.

As he patrolled the pens surveying the bulls, Evans spoke fondly of the "attractive, pungent smell" emitted by the animals during passes in the ring.

Around him, a noisy crew of Spanish bull breeders, ranch-hands and hangers-on were emitting their own pungent smell of tobacco and testosterone.

"Frank has more Spanish blood than British," grinned Gaspar Jimenez, the local impresario who first took a chance on Evans in 2000, hoping he might prove a draw for British tourists.

"He has a strong following here, and the respect of the bullfighting world."

High ranking

It was not always that way. During his early career, Evans endured crooked managers, gorings and the derisive reaction of Spain's influential bullfighting press.

After his first top level fight, under the billing "El Ingles" (the Englishman), some papers reported that he had no talent.

The Briton proved the doubters wrong by rising to a world ranking of sixty-three in a community of ten thousand bullfighters, largely down to his appearances as the house matador in Benalmadena.

But his return to the ring after a four-year retirement, which saw him undergo heart bypass and knee replacement surgery, had clearly unnerved even some of his own entourage.

"I tried to talk him out of it, and in the end gave in," explained Bob Rule, Evans' long-standing mozo de espadas or sword carrier.

Frank Evans with supporters
Evans is a popular figure among the Spanish bullfighting community

"But Frank is very fit. He's got experience on his side, if not the youth."

The matador himself was curtly dismissive of any suggestion that age and fragile health might play against him.

"I've no intention of letting one of them get hold of me," he announced, waving down at the pacing bulls. "I think the danger is part of the attraction, quite honestly."

Later, on a searingly-hot Andalucian evening, Evans took to the ring wearing his traje de luces, the bullfighter's "suit of lights", made of lycra and patterned with gold braid.

The Briton avoided a repeat of the mistake made on his career debut, when he was tempted to embellish his groinal physique by stuffing newspaper down his breeches.

Humiliatingly, the paper had worked its way down his leg, to the amusement of onlookers.

Final kill

On this night, the crowd was enthusiastic but small.

Curious holidaymakers had been joined by local aficionados, who have become a minority in Spain. A rare poll in 2006 suggested 72% of Spaniards had no interest in bullfighting.

Evans left much of the early work - tiring the bulls through cape flourishes - to younger members of his crew, before returning for la hora de la verdad - the moment of truth.

Up in the stand, the local band thumped out a paso doble, as the sexagenarian matador manoeuvred each bull into position for the final sword thrust.

The first animal fell immediately, but the second required two thrusts - something Evans would later regret.

"He's the number one matador in this ring," enthused a young Spanish man in the crowd. "He may be English, but he's still a man."

Frank Evans with a bull
Evans killed two bulls on his return to the ring from retirement

Others agreed, waving white handkerchiefs in appreciation as the Briton took a lap of honour.

For each bull, he was awarded one of the animal's ears - the traditional recognition of a job well done.

But as the second bull was dragged lifeless from the arena behind him, Evans admitted the comeback had proved harder than he had expected.

"You get carried away with yourself and think you're fit," he confessed, "but four years is a long time to be out. I've got away with it."

He got away with just a small cut to his hand. And with the cherished scent of the bull fresh in his nostrils, would he enter the ring again?

"Yes, I'm back," he retorted. "Until old age I think. When you see me walking across the ring with a walking stick, I'll probably be convinced it's time to stop."



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SEE ALSO
Retired British matador returns
17 Aug 08 |  Europe
English matador retires from ring
16 Aug 05 |  Manchester


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