WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

Z: Zebra Kid   


Looking Back

George Bollas

Th Zebra  Kid

By Eddie Rose  

See all wrestlers in this section                           Next page

I've often referred to Jack Pye as my favourite wrestler. To watch Jack Pye in the ring was the only criterion for the selection and I stand by that choice. There are, however, other things to take into consideration and another one of my all-time favourite wrestlers was George Bollas – the Zebra Kid.

George was a huge man and always appeared in his splendid outfit and mask based on Zebra markings. I was introduced to him by George de Relwyskow, one of the co-promoters at Manchester's Belle Vue, during a period when I reported on wrestling for the two Manchester evening papers and for the monthly Wrestler magazine in the early 1960s.

His ring appearance had an electrifying effect on the audience. The Zebra motif outfit, including the mask, gave an air of mystery to this huge twenty five stone of a man. Most men of this size appear be sluggish and slow in their movement but the Zebra Kid had a brisk manner in the ring and could move very quickly indeed.

 He met all the leading heavyweights in the UK during his tours and nearly always left the ring undefeated if not the victor but often by the disqualification route. In fact, I have been able to trace only two occasions when he was beaten and unmasked.

George was a devoted disciple of wrestling in its purest form – not that you would have guessed it by his professional ring performances. At college and university George was an amateur wrestling champion and eventually the inter-state amateur champion. He was shortlisted for the Olympic team but this was abandoned when he decided to become a professional. He maintained his interest and when in this country he assisted the GB amateur champion, Dennis McNamara in his preparation for the Olympic Games.

At our first interview I told him that I was an amateur wrestler and without hesitation he beckoned me into a nearby empty changing room and began to demonstrate some amateur wrestling moves and their counters. I must state that for a man of some 25 stone weight he was remarkably fit, fast and agile. This he demonstrated in the professional ring all over the world. He made me promise to pass on what he had shown me to fellow amateur wrestlers at the Manchester YMCA.

On one occasion I was with my father-in-law who drove me to Belle Vue. After his bout the Zebra Kid asked could we give him a lift to Victoria Station in Manchester to catch a train to Leeds. The car was a smallish Austin 1100 and I watched as George got in the front seat: the car suddenly sank down on his side at an alarming rate and father-in-law went white. It looked as if the car was going to collapse but Austin engineering withstood  the challenge and off we went to the station with the driver looking very apprehensive.

He surprised me again some months afterwards. I was attending the Lancashire Amateur Junior championships in Manchester with the lads I coached at that time and I suddenly became aware of this huge man sitting at the back and paying very close attention to the action on the mat as the lads wrestled. It was George and he had taken a flight from London just to watch and encourage the young wrestlers before flying back to London again that evening.

George was an engaging character and had a cheerful, outgoing manner, quite different to his ring persona. On his final tour he was he was finally unmasked in the Kings Hall, Belle Vue. Another legendary wrestler, Count Bartelli, was unmasked around this time by Kendo Nagasaki at Hanley. This left two other leading masked wrestlers: The Mask and The Zebra Kid. This was the next show-down in the North,just before Christmas and I was fortunate enough to witness it at Belle Vue in front of 6000 excited fans. The Zebra Kid had also been unmasked at a Southern venue around this time.

Referee Lew Roseby had a quite easy time with these two for the bout was unexpectedly free o “needle” with no serious reprimands or even a public warning issued. In the second round the Zebra Kid landed badly and injured his ankle which severely limited his movements. The Mask moved in and took the first fall with a body slam and press. The Zebra Kid equalised with an unexpected knee to the Mask's midriff followed by a head mare and body press to his winded opponent. 

The Zebra Kid, however was still handicapped by his ankle injury, could not escape his opponent , now galvanised into fierce action. He  quickly took the huge American in another thunderous body slam  and follow through body press for the winning fall. This was the end of a career of over four thousand bouts world-wide and The Zebra Kid removed his mask to reveal his true identity; George Bollas from Columbus, Ohio, USA. 

A truly unforgettable wrestler.

THE UNMASKING OF THE ZEBRA KID


Dave Sutherland remembers the time he unmasked The Zebra Kid to uncover another mystery.

The last bout of the evening had just got underway and since there would be precious little chance of anyone requiring nuts, ice cream or an orange drink at that time in the proceedings I decided to call it a night and take my tray and residual items back upstairs to the office where Audrey and Harry could check off the cash that I had returned against the stock that I had taken and work out my commission on the sales; or more likely to calculate how much I owed them!


Hanging my white coat on the peg from which I had just taken my outdoor jacket I set out to go downstairs to the back of the hall where I could have a well earned cigarette and watch the last few rounds before returning to see how I had done sales wise.


As I went through the office door onto the landing at the top of the stairs to the dressing rooms who should I find myself facing but The Zebra Kid who an hour or so earlier had less than endeared himself to the Newcastle crowd.


He was still wearing his mask and chewing on the ever present cigar as I once saw it described; he was dressed in a pair of baggy trousers and one of those granddad vests which button at the top under a scruffy gabardine raincoat, a battered leather grip lay at his feet. 


Now in the pocket of my jacket was a brand new autograph book and The Zebra’s signature was yet to grace it so seizing the opportunity I handed him the book and pen and politely asked him for his autograph which he duly obliged and handed the book back to me.


I thanked him equally politely and turned to make my way downstairs when he spoke for the first time; it was a curt and commanding “C’mere you” and placing a fatherly hand on my shoulder, giving me the full benefit of his 24 stones, he explained to me that he was expecting a taxi coming shortly and that there were kids downstairs in the foyer who might bother him for autographs or pictures upon his departure and since he was in a hurry this might not be a good idea as, he stated, “somebody might get hurt”. Therefore I was not to let anyone know that he was at the top of the stairs. I assured him that as an employee of the establishment he could count on my total discretion as I made my way downstairs, through the deserted foyer into the hall needing that cigarette more than ever at that point (I ought to point out that I haven’t smoked anything for over thirty years now). 


About half an hour later with the evening’s entertainment over and with commission in pocket my friend and co-worker Alan Patchett and I made our shortcut through the back streets of Newcastle to catch our train back to South Shields. The moment that we arrived at the entrance of Newcastle’s Central Station we were surrounded by the same kids who were the bête noire of Mr Bollas (a harmless but over enthusiastic group of adolescents who were more intent on collecting autographs than watching the wrestling) who were bursting to tell us that The Zebra Kid was in the station and not wearing his mask.


Detaching ourselves from this young entourage I quickly explained to Patchett about my encounter with the Zebra on the stairs and I hoped that he didn’t think that I had told the kids where to find him. Within seconds he appeared from the direction of the platforms that serviced the North side of the Tyne and it looked like he was aiming for the barrier from where the Inter City trains could be caught which meant him passing me.  


Had he still been wearing his mask I doubt that he could have cut a less inconspicuous figure; his facial features could be best described as heavy and his hair was thinning, he was well on with another cigar as he hauled himself across the station near to where we were waiting. I don’t know how good a memory for faces he had and I wasn’t in any hurry to find out!


Then a very strange thing happened.


Instead of going directly to the Inter City platforms he diverted into the W.H.Smith kiosk 100 yards or so away from barrier I supposed in order to avoid the unwanted attention that the kids might offer. Minutes later, the time being around 21:45 Smiths’ steel shutters came down, the lights went out, staff emerged and doors were locked but no Zebra Kid? Now anyone who ever saw him wrestle would confirm that for such a large man he was possessed of a lightening turn of speed which he often employed to bring down an opponent but I doubted that he could replicate that over 100 yards on Newcastle Station without being noticed.


The most plausible explanation that I could come up with was that he had somehow persuaded the staff of W.H.Smith to let him onto the platform via a back door thus escaping his predators. However it was my experience that to work for that establishment you had to have a most curmudgeonly attitude and doing favours wasn’t part of your job description.


So from that day to this I am still intrigued as to where he disappeared; I can always say that on that December Saturday night in 1964 I witnessed the Zebra Kid unmasked, although not in combat, yet he left me with a bigger mystery to solve.