Vicente Ruiz El Soro, a personal tribute.

As with everyone who saw Vicente El Soro for the first time I was an instant fan. But I must admit I still had a lot to learn about toreo and was a fan of every torero. That summer I spent a week in Madrid, on my way to the feria in Málaga and came across a taurine magazine that had just commenced publishing. It was called Aplausos and it looked more like a newspaper than the glossy weekly we know it today. I noticed an announcement for the July feria in Valencia: Four corridas, a bullfight on horseback and two novilladas. It would run for seven days in a row. I had never been to a novillada before.

The first time I saw El Soro was on a Saturday evening in July 1981. He was still a novillero and appeared with Bernardino Piriz novillos alongside Pepín Jiménez and Luis Miguel Campano. Both he and Jiménez—with whom he shared many afternoons—cut two ears and left through the main gate. A week later Vicente repeated this triumph and was again carried out of the ring. It was his third and last season as a novillero con picadores. When the season ended El Soro stood sixth in the ranking with 34 novilladas and 84 trophies.

His career lasted twenty years, a large portion of which I watched him risk his life, triumph and fail before a knee injury forced him to withdraw from the bullring. In later years he earned my respect when I realized how much he meant to Valencia and to its afición. How much the Valencian people recognized the generosity of this man, who followed his dream. How they regarded him as “one of them” and how they stood by him when his luck ran out.

 

He took his alternativa in Fallas in 1982. The Sevillian master Paco Camino, once nicknamed “the prodigy of Camas”—with twelve exits through the Puerta Grande of Madrid’s Las Ventas—one of Spain’s bullfighting legends, presided over the ceremony. Pepe Luis Vázquez, son of another taurine legend, acted as the witness. The bulls were provided by Alvaro Domecq’s Torrestrella. El Soro left through the main gate after being awarded three ears. Vicente Zabala’s article in ABC describes the immense popularity of this new, vibrant Valencian torero with the people of his region: “On the eve of the alternativa, the matador’s four new suits of lights were placed on the main altar of the church of Foios—they represented an immense fortune paid with the contribution of all members of their local peñas. The priest blessed them and read mass while the matador-to-be administered communion. However, the church was so full that most of the people had to take part in the street.”

In the following festival of San Isidro, Vicente confirmed his status as a matador in the bullring of Las Ventas. This time, another bullfighting legend, “Rafael de Paula,” acted as padrino. His friend and colleague of his novillero days, Pepín Jiménez, witnessed the act. It was not a good day. The Madrid crowd did not admire him like the people in Valencia. They never would.

 

Vicente Ruiz Soro was born in May 1962 in the village of Foios, a typically agricultural Valencian community. Years ago his father had been a novillero with an “espactaculo-comico-musical y taurino.” These comical-musical shows have a serious part in which aspiring young people get a chance to show their agility with bull calves. Vicente was destined for a life working the land, harvesting cauliflowers, artichokes and lettuces. Once a confirmed matador he would still wear a wristband made of string used to bind the crops, to remind himself of his humble beginnings. Like his father he had the opportunity to become part of a taurine comical show and at 16 went on to make his first appearance as a novillero without picadores in the neighboring town of Xativa. Of his five brothers, two also undertook the uncertain journey on the planet of the bulls. Jaime became an accomplished picador. In my last book, Italian Dominoes, I wrote about the miraculous alternativa Soro II was given in 1989. Antonio, a less exuberant torero than his brother, confirmed his status in Madrid but retired some years later.

With El Soro, Valencia (the third city of Spain) had its very own matador again. This had not happened since the time (and untimely death in 1922) of the gifted Manuel Granero, a torero destined to take over the throne left vacant by José Gómez Gallito. Even though Valencia never was a cradle of matadors, it had provided the taurine world with eminent banderilleros (from Enrique Berenguer Blanquet and Alfredo David to Paco Honrubia, among others) and picadors Francisco Alabán Veintiundit, José Cantos Barana and Manuel Calvo Montoliu. Of course, in the years after Granero there had been some notable Valencian matadors but they mostly performed in local bullrings. A few would become known beyond the boundaries of the Comunitat Valenciana. Vicente Barrera, who retired in 1945, had successfully toreared in Madrid as well as in Sevilla. Jaime Marco El Choni was the last matador to receive the alternativa from Manuel Rodriguez Manolete.

El Soro’s arrival was like a bolt of lightning to the starved Valencian afición and one year after his alternativa the first taurine school in Spain was founded… in Valencia. Dozens of youths signed up, eager to be educated in the use of the cape and muleta but especially how to place banderillas like their idol El Soro. Even today the Valencian Escuela Taurina train many young people to become good toreros. So it is safe to say that without El Soro, there wouldn’t have been any internationally acclaimed Valencian matadors like Enrique Ponce and Roman Collado. I should also mention Vicente Barrera, grandson of Vicente Barrera. While his brilliant taurine career spanned many years, it didn’t start at the escuela. But, while still a novillero, he became the first Valencian to be carried through the Prince’s Gate of Sevilla’s Maestranza bullring.

Four months after receiving his alternativa Vicente El Soro appeared in three corridas in Valencia’s July Feria de San Jaime but cut only one ear. In the years that followed he was often found on the same billing with matadors like Luis Francisco Esplá, Victor Mendes or Morenito de Maracay, the so-called banderillero-toreros. Not always appreciated by purist aficionados (the bulls in these spectacles rarely had enough stamina to reach the third act), it was a very successful formula with the public and impresarios could count on these athletes to sell out the arenas in which they appeared.

In September 1984 he accepted a contract for a corrida in the Cordoban village of Pozoblanco. On its poster he was announced with Francisco Rivera Paquirri and José Cubero Yiyo. That evening Paquirri died on the horns of Avispado. A year later in Colmenar Viejo, a village near Madrid, a Marcos Nuñez bull named Burlero took the life of Yiyo. From that moment on, El Soro was known as “the matador who survived el cartel negro,” the black poster. In taurine Spain superstition is never far away.

 

Triumphant appearances in his local arena reached their peak in Fallas 1994, when all three matadors (Espartaco, El Soro and Enrique Ponce) left on shouders. A month later he performed on a rainy afternoon on the wet sand in the bullring in Montoro. After putting in a pair of banderillas he slipped and severely damaged his left knee. The following day he triumphed as the solitary matador in Benidorm but the injury to his knee was so severe he was forced to cancel his remaining contracts. His absence from the plazas de toros lasted twenty years.

At first El Soro’s life seemed that of a well-off retired bullfighter who had invested his earnings wisely in several agricultural projects. However the projects failed, leaving the investor in need of charity. But whenever he needed help, the Valencian people and the taurine community responded generously. His unfading popularity showed in the crowd attending the two benefit corridas that were organized in his favor. Vicente was still their matador. He had made them proud by putting taurine Valencia back on the map. And although he now moved in the highest social circles, in his heart he never left them or forgot his modest origins. For that he could always count on their support.

After consulting orthopaedic specialists from Valencia to Madrid and from Houston, Texas, to Amsterdam and after thirty costly operations, his left leg was now an inch shorter than his right and he was still walking on crutches. When at last he was given a state-of-the-art prosthetic knee, it gave him enough mobillity to think about the only thing that had been on his mind for twenty years: his reapparance. The arena he chose was in Xativa where in 1979 he made his taurine debut. Three months later, in the plaza portatil of his hometown, he directed the alternativa ceremony of his friend Rafael de Foios.

The return to his beloved Valencian arena came in March 2015 for a corrida of Domecq bulls with Enrique Ponce and José Maria Manzanares. After such a long absence, the joy he felt was obvious in the way he performed his old people-pleasing tricks to the cheers of a crowd that loved everything he did. He was awarded one ear. His second bull landed him in hospital after fracturing three vertebrae as a result of a misjudged move while placing banderillas. The following year he was back but looked out of shape, unable to keep up with the pace of the corrida. It was obvious that the artificial knee wasn’t fitted to jump and run around in a bullring. Not too much later he was back in a wheelchair.

His health deteriorated. El Soro suffered his first heart attack in 2019. He was admitted to a hospital and recovered after he was fitted with a stent. Last January, he was urgently readmitted with an angina pectoris. Again he recovered. But just one day after his discharge, Soro was rushed back to the clinic and inmediately entered the Intensive Care Unit. His life was severly in danger after his doctors discovered imminent kidney failure due to blood poisoning originating in the prosthesis of his left knee. It resulted in an emergency operation to surgically remove the artificial limb. The operation lasted four hours but proved a succes and accelerated a miraculous recovery. The evening after he was given the all clear, he turned up—in a wheelchair—at a public meeting and received a standing ovation.

I then realized that the relationship between Valencia and Vicente Ruiz El Soro was still very much alive.

Crónica de Pieter Hildering

Fotografias de Mateo. Tauroimagenplus