The Selby Centre in Tottenham is an unlikely shrine to sporting excellence. It lies in the midst of one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK, a decaying community hub that backs onto Haringey food bank, and boasts as its centrepiece a dimly lit, poorly ventilated sports hall - one that housed, for 16 years in the 1980s and 1990s, arguably the finest cricket academy of its era.

The proximity of the centre to White Hart Lane, where the awesome steel-and-glass cliff-faces of the newly rebuilt Tottenham Hotspur Stadium loom over the local chicken shops and convenience stores, merely drives home the sense of them-and-us dislocation. But it was here in the early 1980s - not long after the 1981 Brixton riots had obliged all inner-city councils to pay greater heed to the needs of their immigrant populations - that the first seeds of a new community project were sown.

Legend has it that a local councillor saw a group of kids playing cricket on a patch of wasteland while going past on the top deck of the bus, and not long afterwards, set in motion a charity for unemployed youths, aimed at producing "good cricketers and good citizens".

But now, 21 years after its funding dried up at the dawn of the millennium, almost nothing remains of Haringey Cricket College except the testimony of the 25 first-class cricketers - almost exclusively of Afro-Caribbean heritage - whose techniques, temperaments and, perhaps most importantly of all, future employability were fine-tuned during its brief but remarkable existence.

Young Black men were not the charity's sole focus - indeed, the college's original intake had an impressively diverse outlook, including two girls who were seeking futures in cricket administration, and "Herbie", a deaf and mute young man whose own focus was on learning the art and science of groundsmanship.

But Haringey's role-call of cricket graduates would be impressive in any context - among them Mark Alleyne, England allrounder and Gloucestershire captain during the club's trophy-laden heyday between 1999 and 2004; Keith Piper, Warwickshire's wicketkeeper throughout the club's own glory years in the mid-1990s; and Adrian Rollins, opening batter for Derbyshire and Northants, and now deputy headmaster of a secondary school in Nottingham.

Sussex's Carlos Remy, the Glamorgan duo of Steve Bastien and Daren Foster, and Derbyshire's Frank Griffith - whose daughter Cordelia now plays for Manchester Originals - are just some of the other names who surely would never have made even the briefest of livings from the game, had it not been for the leg-up that the college offered them.

The college's father figure was a larger-than-life Jamaican, Reg Scarlett - a fine offspinner who would have played more than three Tests for West Indies but for the emergence of Lance Gibbs. His influence, in every sense of the word, is perhaps best exemplified by his alleged role in the hangover that caused Garry Sobers to retire with a stomach complaint midway through his final Test century at Lord's in 1973.

"Reg was old-school," Rollins tells ESPNcricinfo. "He could be very blatant about what he thought of your game, but he was supportive, and he cared. We're talking inner-city boys who needed to know what the obstacles were going to be, so the approach he often took was tough but also, I felt, fair and honest. He didn't always say loads of stuff but when he spoke, you listened, and there was never a time that I felt that I couldn't talk to him."

The zeitgeist played to the college's aspirations. From the moment of their all-conquering tour of England in 1976, West Indies were the dominant sports team of the era, and as star names such as Viv Richards and Malcolm Marshall were drawn into county cricket too, so the children of the Windrush generation could finally feel their horizons broadening before them.

"It wasn't easy, being a Black kid in London in the late 1970s," Rollins says. "My family were in local authority housing for a while, one of two or three Black families in that part of Newham, East London, and we were subjected to a tirade of abuse.

"It affected your sense of identity and your self-esteem, but I remember being very young, supporting Somerset because they had Viv Richards and Joel Garner, and Hampshire because of Malcolm Marshall and Gordon Greenidge. I remember they were people who looked like me and were doing well, and were strong and confident and determined. Yeah, that wasn't something that was usual to me in my day-to-day experience."

By the dawn of the 1980s it felt as though the British Caribbean community was on the cusp of a breakthrough within English cricket too. That year, Roland Butcher became the first Black man to play for England, and throughout the decade he would form part of a trophy-harvesting Middlesex team that had five Black players at its heart - three of whom would also earn England recognition in Norman Cowans, Wilf Slack, and Neil Williams, alongside the West Indian fast bowler Wayne Daniel.

Butcher's England experience was brief - he played three Tests and three ODIs in 1980-81, but never got another chance after that winter's tour of the Caribbean. However, Scarlett recruited him as one of the college's mentors, enabling him to pass on his experience of the top end of the sport, and help to reaffirm the creeping sense of mission within the Selby Centre's walls.

"Whatever you're doing, you need role models," Butcher tells ESPNcricinfo. "When Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, other athletes finally had proof that it wasn't impossible, and were also breaking that barrier within months. So I'd like to think that the fact we were there, playing professionally, would have been confirmation to those youngsters, there is an endgame if you keep working."

The most critical aspect of the college's success, however, was the diet of fixtures against county 2nd XIs that Scarlett secured, more or less through his force of personality. These ensured that his raw recruits would learn to sink or swim, right from their earliest dalliances with the professional game.

"You can train, you can practise as much as you like, but this was Reg's means to take them out of their comfort zones," Butcher recalls. "They immediately knew the level they would have to reach if they wanted to be in first-class cricket, and because of that exposure, a lot of counties who might never have seen them otherwise were able to invite them to trials."

The college competed as "London County" - resurrecting the team that WG Grace had founded in the latter years of his career - with Scarlett himself, by now in his 50s, often captaining the side from No. 11 to provide tactical nous in the field, while leaving the kids to fend for themselves in all other respects. Victories were scarce, but they were far from unheard of.

"We'd give them a run for their money, and it was important to get that respect," Rollins says. "Some counties would take it more seriously than others but, almost always, there'd be one bowler who was just quicker than anything we'd normally face. And, because we were grateful that they'd found a day for the college, we knew we had to represent ourselves well and be competitive in return."

"The college was ahead of its time. Cricket and life skills are very important. Quite often the emphasis is too much on one or the other, but both are really important, because after sport, there is a life"
Roland Butcher

There was, however, an unspoken edge to the contests, as Alleyne recalls. "It was a big learning curve, but it was also a deliberate strategy to get us in front of the counties, because a lot of the lads had unsuccessfully trialled for these teams and never really got a look in. The only way to make an impression was to play against them, and showcase what you can do."

Rollins was one of those players who thought he'd missed the boat prior to taking up his place at the college - he suspects that Essex cut him from their plans when he chose to prioritise his A Levels over a place in the Under-19 squad, despite having represented the county throughout the age-group ranks.

And such were the reasons why Haringey Cricket College put a huge emphasis on vocational qualifications, to prepare pupils for the likelihood that their primary ambition would not come to fruition, and to be ready to face the world with another string to their bow.

"The college was ahead of its time," Butcher says. "Cricket and life skills are very, very important. Quite often the emphasis is too much on one or the other, but both are really important, because after sport, there is a life. Fitting in an educational component is extremely important."

While that dream was still alive, however, no avenue was left unexplored, and as Alleyne recalls, the college was ahead of its time in the field of sports psychology too.

"Even now, some athletes are pretty reticent about using sports psychologists to give themselves an edge," he says. "But I remember we had Tottenham's John Syer on the programme, and to this day, I still use his 'black box' exercise - a really simple idea for avoiding distractions on match days. I can't believe that, 40 years later, people are still umming and aahing about how useful it is."

Remarkably, all of the college's efforts came at a time long before the notion of a cricket academy had gone mainstream. None of the counties had anything so dedicated in place - Yorkshire in fact visited Haringey on a fact-finding mission in the mid-1990s - and it wouldn't be until the 2000s that the ECB would launch its own pathway programmes.

But that, unfortunately, makes the college's subsequent fate all the more galling. In the winter of 1989-90, at the midpoint of its existence, five Afro-Caribbean players were selected for England's tour of the West Indies, among them Phil DeFreitas and Chris Lewis, two former pupils of nearby Willesden High School, who were living proof of the success that could come to inner-city Black kids if they were given a chance to live their dream. Lewis, in fact, had further cemented that notion by regularly training with the college in the off-season.

Instead, 30 years later, that groundswell of talent is non-existent. By the summer of 2019, there was only one UK-born, state-educated Black man playing first-class cricket in the whole of England and Wales, out of a cast of approximately 400 players on the books of the professional counties.

The beginning of the end came in 1996, when Scarlett was recruited to set up the West Indies Cricket Academy - and though it proved at the time to be an abortive project, the very fact that a rival cricket board had seen more value in what he had built than England's own authorities was telling.

And ironically, it was the creation of the ECB the following year, as a single unified body to oversee all levels of cricket in England and Wales, that sounded the academy's death knell. While the overhauling of the outdated Test and County Cricket Board would have far-reaching consequences for the game's elite level, including the establishment of central contracts in 2000, Haringey Cricket College was one of those low-level projects that was destined to slip through the cracks.

A further irony was the perception, within the ranks of Tony Blair's New Labour, of cricket as an elitist sport compared to salt-of-the-earth football. In the wake of their General Election victory in 1997, the new government immediately cut the sport's lottery funding, and within three years, the college was no more.

In recent years, an explosion of testimony from Black cricketers within the English system has demanded a reappraisal of their experiences down the years, not least from the former England player and director of women's cricket at Surrey, Ebony Rainford-Brent, who founded the African Caribbean Engagement (ACE) programme in 2020 in a bid to address the community's alarming drop-off.

"If Haringey Cricket College was still funded and running, we wouldn't need ACE because the level and quality of players was so great and it was fuelling our game," Rainford-Brent told ESPNcricinfo.

"Haringey's legacy is that it proves that the model does work. If you put infrastructure and investment into certain areas and communities, you will see results. But the frustration is that, if the funding hadn't ended, we wouldn't have had this hole in our game, because that support would have been there."

Rainford-Brent's personal connection to Haringey is one that epitomises the wider but less visible rewards of such an engaged community programme. Throughout her career, her one-to-one coach was another of the college's graduates, Jeremy Greaves, a player who never quite made the professional ranks, but whose presence within the system helped to reassure her that she belonged.

"I don't know if I would have felt as comfortable in the game if I didn't have someone like him to relate to," she says. "I owe a lot to Haringey. It's not just the players that it produced, but the people it developed that have given back to our game."

Such tales are myriad. Piper transferred his fine county career into a second innings as Warwickshire's second XI coach, while Butcher, in a fulfilment of the work that Scarlett had been headhunted to undertake, went on to become the inaugural Director of Sport at University of the West Indies - a role in which he leant heavily on his experiences at Haringey to ensure talented Caribbean athletes were no longer forced to sacrifice their educations in order to chase their dreams.

The success of the UWI project has, Butcher says, been his "greatest contribution to sport". And yet, he concedes his disappointment that he was unable to find similarly fulfilling work back in England. Much the same might be said for Alleyne, Haringey's most decorated graduate, whose seven successful years in charge of the MCC Academy ought by rights to have put him in the frame to become county cricket's first Black coach - the absence of which he describes as "disgusting".

Instead, after some piecemeal opportunities including a short-term role with Gloucestershire in the 2021 summer, Alleyne is now the head cricket coach of Marlborough College in Wiltshire - an elite public school that could hardly be further removed from his inner-city roots.

"It does feel a long way from Haringey," Alleyne admits. "But these institutions are the only ones prepared to invest in high-quality coaching, and provide the sort of job security you'd want as a family. There's plenty of speculation, and you can never, ever prove why these opportunities don't exist. But the counties are almost too lazy to try, and just constantly recruit from within. So as soon as you've got out of the system, it is really hard to break back in."

Nevertheless, Alleyne too is now involved in ACE, having helped to launch their Bristol project earlier this year, and with this new groundswell of momentum, he's also hopeful that some of the ghosts of Haringey can be resurrected before there's no legacy whatsoever to fall back on.

"A lot of ground has been lost because so many talented athletes have chosen other sports," he says - and he includes his 16-year-old son, Max, in that bracket, now a youth-team defender at Manchester City. "It's the knock-on effect that will inspire the next generation of young Black athletes, so with cricket, it's going to take a little while to filter back through. We can't lose faith if nothing happens tomorrow."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket