Sunday, May 29, 2011

The legendary Frank Evans

Frank Evans describes himself as the last British bullfighter. If that was all that Frank had done in his life, it would be quite remarkable but there is more to him than that – read on….. 

Frank Evans first heard enthusiastic tales about bulls from his father, Ralph, who was stationed in Gibraltar during the Second World War, and made visits to bullrings over the border in Spain. Frank later became friendly with a neighbouring Spanish family in Salford, and from them he heard intriguing stories about Manuel Benítez "El Cordobés"; when he was 20 they invited him to a family wedding in Granada, where he developed his love of Spain further - and at last got to see a bullfight for himself.

Frank worked in his father’s butcher business, and played rugby, both league and union, at a high competitive level (for Sale and Salford), before dropping everything and going to Majorca to rendezvous with English bullfighter Vincent Hitchcock, and learn from him how to fight bulls. Hitchcock didn't turn up. Moving to Valencia, Frank joined a school for hopeful bullfighters, and eventually got to face a real animal in a village fiesta - which turned into a farce - before returning to England, and back to work as a driving instructor. There he got in touch with George Erik, founder of the Club Taurino of London, who agreed to act as his manager in Spain. His first contract was a case of mistaken identity: he was known locally as "El Inglés", and despite never having killed a bull, he was signed up for a fight in France which should have been given to the other "El Inglés" - Henry Higgins, already an established bullfighter.

Marriage and raising a family brought Frank back to Salford, and he found himself in business with the legendary Manchester United footballer, George Best. Frank was given work running the boutiques and nightclubs empire, and thus had to deal with the eccentricities of Mr. Best. Frank then got into boxing promotion, which also led to some colourful adventures, and then bizarrely, he set up a bedroom and bathroom fitting service.

When his father Ralph died prematurely of a heart attack, Frank took a long hard look at himself, and realised that what he really wanted to do was to get back to the bulls. He was fortunate to team up with professional matador Vicente Ruiz "El Soro", who was impressed by what he could learn from Frank's rugby and boxing training methods. The association benefited Frank too, and he finally started to get contracts, and rubbed shoulders with important contacts in the world of bulls.

This period culminated in Frank being upgraded to full matador, but the downside was that there were no contracts offered as a matador. This broke suddenly when a far-sighted impresario offered him corridas in the Costa del Sol plaza of Benalmadena; he could see that an English bullfighter would be a draw for tourists. Then South America called, with contracts in Venezuela and Mexico, and France too; Benalmadena continued to offer opportunities; Frank finally realised that he was being taken seriously, and he watched his name creep up the matador charts.

Serious health problems caught up with Frank; first his knee, and then his heart, and both required major surgery. After a full recovery, he felt better than ever, and planned his comeback. With other partners he became involved in a management and promotion business, and although he is officially retired, he has appeared in several festivals, with a fair degree of success. Frank speculates that until another one comes along, he may well prove to be the last British bullfighter. He has achieved the impossible, and it wasn't easy. At the end of August 2009 he made a successful comeback appearance, and announced his intention of carrying on fighting bulls thus: "I'm not going to retire. I'll just fade away in the distance; I'll do it as long as I enjoy doing it. I can't say how fit I'll feel in my seventies."

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