mikepoloneck
Through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, British athletics benefited from a rich seam of athletic talent located at Haringey Athletic Club. During that time a glut of competitors whose careers were shaped and nurtured on and around the track at the New River Stadium, just a few corner kicks along White Hart Lane from Tottenham Hotspur FC, earned national and international success, and that enduring achievement is to be officially celebrated.

This month, The London Coaching Foundation is presenting The Haringey Golden Years - an oral and visual exhibition involving 22 of the club's most distinguished athletes and coaches. Contributors include Sebastian Coe, who was both a member and President of the club, Mike McFarlane, a key figure as both athlete and then coach, and the late Jean Pickering MBE, Olympic athlete and wife of Ron Pickering, former Haringey President.

Ron Pickering, an inspirational figure at Haringey AC as both a coach and President of the clubRon Pickering, an inspirational figure at Haringey AC as both a coach and President of the club

The list of distinguished Haringey alumni speaks for itself. Tony Jarrett - world silver medallist and Commonwealth champion at 110m hurdles. Dalton Grant - European indoor champion, Commonwealth champion and European silver medallist at the high jump. Gary and Heather Oakes, the husband and wife who won bronze medals at the 1980 Olympics.

Marcus Adam -Commonwealth 200m champion.

Coe – double Olympic 1500m champion and multiple world record holder at 800m, 1000m, 1500m and the mile.

McFarlane – European indoor 60m champion, joint Commonwealth 200m champion, Olympic 100m finalist, Olympic 4x100m silver medallist.

John Regis – European and world indoor 200m champion, world outdoor bronze medallist and world 4x100m champion...

That list goes on and on. But what was special about Haringey, which has continued to produce top athletic talent since merging with Enfield in 1999?

Dalton Grant a high jumper of unrivalled nerve and one of the Haringey AC greatsDalton Grant a high jumper of unrivalled nerve and one of the Haringey AC greats

One of the main reasons was that, under the direction of visionary figures such as coaches Sandy Gray and Ron Pickering, the distinguished BBC commentator who spent many years as the club's President, Haringey AC, in the words of the LCF accompanying text, began "moving the focus away from what was a white middle class sport by sourcing new talent from a previously untapped diverse inner city pool - in this case Haringey and Tottenham."

It was a sporting revolution in North London. The club launched a school of excellence, the first of its kind, producing most of its own athletes. But the level of success also attracted other athletes – and coaches, such as the iconic figure of John Isaacs, who moved across from nearby Victoria Park and became the guiding light to sprint and sprint hurdle talents such as Adam, Regis, Jon Ridgeon (briefly), Hugh Teape and the mercurial Solomon Wariso.

Isaacs was - is - a charismatic character. In September 1990 I went down to the New River Stadium to interview him and Regis, who had just returned from the European Championships in Split, where he had won gold in the 200m and the 400m relay, running the startling time of 43.93sec at the latter unfamiliar distance.

Two months earlier, Regis had been beaten by Linford Christie over 200m. "He was running with brawn rather than skill," Isaacs said. "Because one of John's greatest strengths is strength itself, he tends to get very rugged under pressure. I wanted him to concentrate on his technique - knee-lift and relaxation."

Isaacs revealed how he had also prompted Regis to new levels of achievement by counterpointing the success of his training partner Adam, who had beaten him earlier that year in Auckland to win the Commonwealth 200m title. "I told him, if he was not careful, he was going to become the nearly man," Isaacs said with a wicked smile.

Three years later, at the same venue, another interview with Regis, who was by now being trained by McFarlane. This time it was a warmer training night, in June, and Regis was doing the bulk of his work on the track rather than the indoor area beside it. He was clearly moving faster than the athletes around him as McFarlane's cries resounded in the cooling air: "Good. Active. Chin! Chin! Chin! Swing your right arm, John. Swing it!"

MikMike McFarlane, one of Haringey AC's leading lights as an athlete and coachMikMike McFarlane, one of Haringey AC's leading lights as an athlete and coach

Thus, night after night, day after day, the painstaking work went on – and the results flowed.

Coe's outings at the New River were infrequent. His highest profile race there would have been in the GRE Cup final in 1988, billed to be his first outing since his calamitous failure to earn selection at the Olympic trials two weeks earlier when he was below par with a respiratory infection. By this point, the Olympic 1500m champion of 1980 and 1984 had received the extraordinary honour of a letter of support from the IOC President Juan-Antonio Samaranch, pleading with the British Board to allow the champion to defend his title on a wild card entry.

Sadly, after a gentle jog along White Hart Lane, Coe decided he was not in good enough shape to run, instead watching the 800m from the stand before making his pied piper way down to the press tent, trailed by a gaggle of scribes and cameramen who proved as difficult to shift as any lingering infection. The wild card plea, of course, proved similarly abortive.

Haringey were once one of Europe's leading clubsHaringey were once one of Europe's leading clubs

The exhibition is not just a matter of celebration, however, but an exploration of what is required to further raise the level of British athletics.

"Remembering the winning formula that propelled HAC to the top of its game gives us an opportunity to address what's currently wrong in British athletics and what needs to be addressed to identify and nurture the next generation of sprinters, jumpers and throwers," says LCF chief executive John Herbert, a four times Olympian who trained at HAC.

"You have to have the right calibre of people all coming together at the same time to be able emulate what was achieved by the people at HAC. And today there are different pressures and challenges to contend with.

"Most immediate is the urgent need for a fresh injection of volunteers, coaches and officials - the lifeblood of British athletics - to stimulate a new era of competitive grassroots club activity. But if this project simply inspires more young people to venture out of their comfort zones and try track and field then at least we will have achieved a modicum of change for them, for athletics and for the better."

Sebastian Coe ran on only a few occasions for Haringey but remains an important part of the club's historySebastian Coe ran on only a few occasions for Haringey but remains an important part of the club's history

In 2004, 16 years after almost seeing Coe run on his club track, I was back at the New River to cover a UK Athletics Young Athletes League meeting. And I spoke at length to another sprint coach in the great Haringey tradition of selflessness and boundless enthusiasm, Les Mars.

"See where they're standing?" Les Mars said, as the under-17 girls prepared for their sprint relay."Back from the line. See? That's where I tell my girls to stand, so they are already accelerating when they take the baton."

The girls in question represented Enfield and Haringey Athletics Club, event hosts for the day, and Mars was hoping they might challenge the national age record of 48.9, albeit that the weather - leaden sky and a chill wind - was against it.

But the talent of the Enfield and Haringey quartet - 15-year-olds Rachel Telfer and Tanine Nicholas and Mars's 14-year-old twins, Shadein and Shaliena - offered a tantalising possibility. After all, two weeks earlier they had set the fastest time of the young season with 50 seconds dead.

In what Mars acknowledged was a "tough community", all his young sprinters turn up four times a week, encouraging each other to stay the course, working on their homework in the stands while they waited their calls to action.

Rachel Telfer, studying for nine GCSEs, acknowledge the benefits of such commitment. "I think it's good discipline," she said. "I feel good about it because I know I'm keeping healthy and competing, and getting noticed."

"The society out there doesn't know that this is happening," said Mars as he waited for the relay time. "It's a shame. A real shame." Then official word arrived. "49.9," Mars said. "A second off. I tell you, later in the season, as soon as the sun is shining, that will go. We will smash it to smithereens."

Such commitment and enthusiasm, even after the official golden years of this most notable of athletics clubs, is truly golden.

Haringey Golden Years – the exhibition runs from Wednesday October 9 to October 15. Open daily from 10am. Cre8 Life Style Centre, 80 Eastway, Hackney Wick, London E9 5JH. Admission is free/donations on the door. www.cre8lifestyle.org.uk

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, covered the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as chief feature writer for insidethegames, having covered the previous five summer Games, and four winter Games, for The Independent. He has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, The Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. His latest book Foul Play – the Dark Arts of Cheating in Sport (Bloomsbury £12.99) is available at the insidethegames.biz shop. To follow him on Twitter click here.