He is thought to have earned his nickname because of his physical resemblance to the famed Estonian-born bodybuilder and wrestler of the day, Georges Karl Julius Hackenschmidt.

Norman Clark

His name was Norman “Hackenschmidt” Clark, one of the truly gifted sportsmen of his or any other era.

In 1899, Clark won the Stawell Gift. The following year, and again in 1902, he participated in North Adelaide’s first and second premierships.

Then in 1905 he joined Carlton, first serving as an uncompromising back pocket in its inaugural premierships of 1906, ’07 and ’08 and later as coach of the Blues’ 1914 and 1915 flags – meaning he was involved in Carlton’s first five League premierships.

Now, more than 100 years since Clark’s senior debut for the Blues, a unique piece of football memorabilia celebrating this unique sportsman’s career has come to light.

It’s a glorious certificate of appreciation originally presented by the Carlton hierarchy to Clark, one of the true pioneers of the football club’s first golden era.

The oak-framed hand-painted certificate features a photograph of Clark resplendent in collar and tie and carries the signatures of the then Carlton President J. Urquhart, Treasurer Reginald Blay and Secretary John “Jack” Worrall - the latter acknowledged as League football’s first-ever coach and the man who as a journalist later coined the term “Bodyline”.

Dated March 12, 1909, the inscription on the certificate reads;

“To Mr NC Clark

''Dear Sir,
We, the undersigned, on behalf of the Carlton Football Club, wish to place on record our high appreciation of the manner in which you have upheld the honor of the Club by your excellent and manly play during the past four years. Wishing you long life and prosperity. We are, yours sincerely.”

Certificate of Appreciation Close-up
While Clark’s certificate of appreciation has been in the possession of Melbourne couple Ken and Yvonne Cross for some years now, they no longer have any real use for the item. Accordingly, they advised their daughter Narelle Swettenham, the ex-wife of former world junior lightweight champion Barry Michael and a cousin of Hawthorn ruckman Peter “Spider” Everitt, to alert the club of the certificate’s existence.

“The family has had this item in its possession for some time, but believes it rightfully belongs to the Carlton Football Club. Hopefully it will find its rightful place in Carlton’s Hall of Fame for everyone to appreciate,” Swettenham said.

“There are other items out there relating to this period of Carlton’s history and it would be nice to think that the owners of these items will also come forward.”

Norman Childers Clark was born in North Adelaide on December 11, 1878. An outstanding athlete, Clark stood 5ft 7in and weighed in at 13st 6lbs in the old measurement.

“We often wondered how he could lift his bulk so high,” Clark’s former teammate Rod “Wee” McGregor later told The Sporting Globe. “Norman Clark’s particular type of play has not been duplicated, chiefly because no-one of his pattern has since appeared.”

In 1899 Clark, listed as a resident of Roseberry, South Australia, took out the Stawell Gift off 14 and a half yards in a time of 11.45 seconds.

Following his successes with North Adelaide, Clark took to the field for the first of his 125 senior matches with the Blues. It was 1905, the eve of Carlton’s first golden era which saw it secure the first VFL premiership hat-trick of 1906, ’07 and ’08. Clark, who earned a fearsome reputation through the period as a back pocket, also served as Carlton vice-captain in 1907 and was briefly elevated to the captaincy with the suspension of Fred “Pompey” Elliott.

All up, Clark served as Carlton coach in 1912, 1914-’18 and 1920-’22, officiating in 150 matches for a more than respectable 102 wins, six draws and 42 losses. His coaching tenure at Princes Park took in 18 finals and four Grand Finals for two premierships and a winning percentage of 70 per cent.

In 1918 Clark married Eileen Florence Fleming. She is known to have given birth to two sons – Norman Adrian Clark in 1919 and Bryan Childers Clark in 1923.

In 1919, Clark completed a short stint as coach of Richmond. In 1922, in what was his third stint as Carlton coach, he was replaced after the seventh round by Horrie Clover. Nine years later he briefly officiated as coach of North Melbourne before John Pemberton took the reins.

Clark died in Fitzroy at the age of 65 on Boxing Day 1943. His wife survived him by 40 years, while eldest son Norman died in 1998. All three share the family grave at Preston Cemetery, although the whereabouts of the other family member, Bryan is unclear.

The certificate appears to have found its way into a second-hand shop in High Street Northcote following Norman junior’s death in 1998. It was subsequently acquired by a person who in turn forwarded it to the Cross family.

Clark was inducted into Carlton’s Hall of Fame in 1989, along with Sergio Silvagni and the late Bruce “Bugsy” Comben.