British pensioner bullfighter makes comeback in Spain after quadruple heart bypass

British pensioner bullfighter makes comeback in Spain after quadruple heart bypass

The only Englishman ever to have earned the title of matador is preparing to make a remarkable comeback at the age of 65.

Frank Evans, a grandfather from Salford, will don his bullfighter's cape and step into the ring in southern Spain on Sunday only months after undergoing a quadruple heart bypass operation and knee replacement surgery.

Three years ago, when he was forced to retire on his doctor's orders at the age of 62, fellow matadors cut his ponytail and carried him on their shoulders from the Benalmadena bullring on the Costa del Sol showing him the same respect they would any full-blooded Spanish torero.

But now, with a prosthetic knee of titanium and a clean bill of health for his faulty heart he said he is feeling better than ever and is determined to continue practising his life's passion.

«I am in much better shape than when I quit,» he told The Daily Telegraph at a training session in Osuna, Andalusia.

«I only survived that last season because I was having cortisone injections in my knee, otherwise I could barely walk 10 yards.»

«I now feel better than ever and I want to be a bullfighter again. People tell me I am mad but surely that is what such surgery is for — to allow you to continue living the life you love.

»Yes I could stick to the golf course but anyone can play golf. I love bullfighting and I'm good at it."

Since killing his first bull in 1966, «El Ingles», as he came to be known, has stunned aficionados unaccustomed to seeing a Briton in the ring.

The son of a Manchester butcher, he ran off to Spain to enroll at a bullfighting school in the 1960s after reading a book about it.

At first dismissed for being «too English» and at 23 «too old» to begin to learn the art, he went on to dispatch more than 300 bulls over a four-decade career. His prowess earned him the accolade of «matador de toros» and the respect of bullfighting critics.

«I've never been one of the greats,» admitted Mr Evans.

«The Spanish come to watch me because they are curious. But then they see that I don't run away from the bull and they react warmly.

»They are encouraging and kind to me because I don't come from a culture of bullfighting and am still prepared to give it a go."

Mr Evans, who divides his time between his Salford home and an apartment in Marbella, can chart his career as a torero by the scars on his body. He sports a foot long welt on the inner thigh of his right leg from a goring in Mexico.

His lower left leg is scarred from a fight in Spain and his backside was torn apart by the horn of a 15-year-old cow on a training ranch in 1983.

But he promises to show no fear when he faces a 350kg bull at Villaneuva de la Concepcion on Sunday.

«Of course if it slammed me in the knee I would be destroyed but you can't think about things like that. We matadors try not to dwell on possible injury.»

In preparation for his comeback corrida, Mr Evans has been training hard, doing the «tienta» or training circuit normally reserved for novice bullfighters.

He has been sparring with young calves during practice sessions at a ranch in Osuna.

With practiced poise he puffed out his chest, tucked in his buttocks and with a flourish of his cape executed a stylish pass as the young beast — a third of the weight of a full size Iberian fighting bull — charged towards him.

But with his thinning hair and lined face he cannot disguise the fact that he is old enough to be the grandfather of many of his fellow toreros.

«I am aware that I am by far the oldest bullfighter around,» he acknowledged. «But it's shouldn't be about age.

»Today's 65 is yesterday's 40. I don't believe too many people are fitter than I am."

There are those among his friends who feel differently.

«I wish he wouldn't do this,» sighed Bob Rule, his mozo de espada — an official bullfighting factotum — as he watched Mr Evans training. «I love him dearly as a friend and I support him but he's crazy to get back in the ring at his age. It does worry me.»

Fellow bullfighters share the same reservations but show nothing but respect for El Ingles.

«As a friend I think his coming out of retirement is a very bad idea but as a bullfighter I respect him for continuing to do what he loves,» said Francisco Jose Porras who retired as a matador three years ago in his mid thirties.

«He's a phenomenal person and has been good for bullfighting in general,» he said, explaining that the Englishman had increased understanding of the bullfighting culture in Britain.

But while Mr Evans has a collection of steadfast fans who travel from the UK to see him perform, he has also been the target of animal rights activists who protest at an Englishman's involvement in the «cruel sport».

«I've seen a lot worse in the slaughterhouse than in the ring,» said Mr Evans. «These bulls lead fantastic lives for five years all for ten minutes in front of a matador.»

He admits that he was not able to persuade even those close to him with the argument.

«The only regret I have is disappointing my mother. She was a great mother who was made so unhappy by my choosing to become a bullfighter,» he said.

But he vows to continue in the ring until it becomes impossible and is currently negotiating contracts in Equator, Columbia and Peru, the three bullfighting countries he has yet to perform in.

«I'm in the last 25 per cent of my life so I am going to do what I love to do. I have tried retirement and it didn't suit me,» he said.

«One thing I have learnt in life is that it is not about being the best but about taking part.»

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