Wednesday 19 March 1986,

Plaza de toros Valencia. Five Montavo bulls and one substitute from María del Cármen Camacho for José María ‘Manzanares’, Luis Francisco Esplá and Manuel Montoliú. (photo by the author)


It was a day of anticipation. At five in the afternoon on the day of Saint Joseph, the most revered day of the Valencian calendar, the one date every Valencian bullfighter dreams of crossing the golden sand of the arena on Jativa Street, Manolo Montoliú, one of Spain’s best and well loved banderilleros was to appear in his local bullring as matador de toros. Taking his promotion at 32 in neighboring Castellón seventeen days earlier, he was considered old in the ranks of bullfighters. More so if one kept in mind that in two months time, the sixteen-year-old José Miguel Arroyo would be confirmed as a matador.

But Montoliú wasn’t an ordinary torero. According to the late Zabala in ABC: “He took the road to his doctorate by way of the old paths of classical apprenticeship.”


After first considering a safe career in banking, he decides to follow in his father’s footsteps and in 1973 makes his debut as a novillero in the Catalan tourist bullring of San Feliú de Guixols. Not long after, the young novillero comes to the arena of Valencia. Seven difficult years follow, in which he travels from one village arena to another, stays at shabby guesthouses and often has to share his room with his cuadrilla but always in hope that one day an influential promoter will notice him and will give him a chance. But Montoliú soon realizes that he will never succeed as a matador and exchanges his gold costume for one with the silver decorations of a subalterno. It turns out to be a golden decision. Not long after he makes his debut as a banderillero in the service of the modest Valencian matador Chavalo. However, he enjoys his major triumphs with Vicente Ruiz ‘El Soro’, the pride of Valencia whose electrifying antics in the bullring have given the Valencian afición hope for the future. In 1984 he accepts an offer to join the cuadrilla of Paco Ojeda, at the time one of Spain’s most renowned bullfighters, under whose orders he’ll remain until a year later Ojeda temporarily resigns from bullfighting. Montoliú then joins the legendary Madrileño Antonio Chenel ‘Antoñete’, who needs an experienced group of banderilleros to join him on his farewell tour. When Chenel also resigns, Montoliú yet again dreams of a career as a matador and receives his promotion in Castellón.


Back to the afternoon of San José in 1986. Montoliú in a sky blue suit was flanked by José Maria ‘Manzanares’ on his left, while Luis Francisco Esplá walked on his right side. The next day, in his chronicle in ABC, the late Vicente Zabala provides us with an eye witness account: “In first place Montoliú was fortunate enough to get a bland, but manageable bull, very much in line with the products of the historic two-circle brand of Montalvo. You could tell the blonde Valencian matador de toros was fighting his nerves but he remained stoic albeit a bit restrained. While placing the banderillas in his so specific, personal manner he came close to injury as he seemed to be intimidated either by the occasion or the animal. The faena de muleta had noteworthy qualities: composure and relaxation. However, his faena could have been a bit more vibrant and his performance had more authenticity than quality. His sword hit bone before it went in, the trumpet sounded a warning and he took a lap of honor while the public shouted abuse at the president who had denied him the ear.”


This corrida in March 1986 would be the only one in which Manolo Montoliú performed in Valencia as a matador de toros and I was fortunate to be present. In April and May of that year he took part in the Sevilla feria as well as in San Isidro where Emilio Muñoz confirmed his alternativa with Samuel Flores bulls. And although he was programmed to come to Valencia on July 27, he was injured on the 26th in the French plaza of Beaucaire and never returned to his home arena dressed in gold.

Cronica de Pieter Hildering

Photo de Pieter Hildering