Memories of the Home International Championship have dimmed and few are now interested in casting a light on that tournament, even though it lasted for a hundred years until 1984. The reasons for its decline are easy to identify. The competitiveness waned toward the end and even the annual encounter between England and Scotland, which continued after the Home Internationals' demise, was eventually ditched.
As football became ever more cosmopolitan, the allure of a tournament confined to these islands was bound to fade. It had become dreary. Thanks to improvements in technology a sense of realism set in. People could, for example, have some awareness of the grandeur and fluency of the 1950s Hungarian lineup even if the pictures came from jerky newsreels.
The Home Internationals were doomed, even if the downfall took place slowly, and only now have Wales and Scotland been placed together in qualifiers. The Nations Cup was played in Dublin last year without England, but poor attendances and a dispute over the division of revenues have placed the tournament's future in doubt.
A nation such as England can appreciate how lucrative even friendlies can be if the opponents possess any sort of allure. Without that little competition between the countries in these islands, though, harm has been done.
In principle, it should have been good that the four countries led independent lives as the sport pervaded the planet and invited countries to look beyond their immediate neighbours. Curiously, the most recent encounter between England and Scotland was won 1-0 by the visitors to Wembley for a Euro 2000 play-off in November 1999. That was a empty victory since Paul Scholes had struck twice without reply in the first leg at Hampden.
Over the decades, pride was sustained to a degree, with, say, Wales still capable of defeating England when they met at Wrexham in 1984. Broadly speaking, the Celtic nations have struggled to uphold their reputation. Fatalism, however, does not make perfect sense when, for instance, the Republic of Ireland can have an impact.
Giovanni Trapattoni has been criticised of late, but the manager has demonstrated that countries with a small population can still achieve a great deal. He has some good players but his side as a whole also have substance. France, for instance, could only beat them in a play-off for the 2010 World Cup because Thierry Henry went unpunished despite handling the ball twice before William Gallas scored the key goal in the tie.
It makes sense to divert whatever funds are available to the recruitment of managers such as Trapattoni. Life is bound to be difficult if there is not enough expertise at hand. You can only feel pity when a new manager such as Northern Ireland's Michael O'Neill fields a depleted side and loses 6-0 in his first match, an away game with Holland.
O'Neill, after all, had done as much as was feasible before that. It could be a long time before anyone matches his feat of getting Shamrock Rovers past Partizan Belgrade and into the group stage of the Europa League last season. At every level of the sport, preparation and an innate acumen can still make a difference.
Astuteness will not make any side a match for the best on a regular basis, but it can enhance status. There is, too, a potential benefit in being a marginal figure who turns out for a small country. Such a person will not usually be distracted by, say, the prospect of a demanding run in the Champions League.
No manager can take it for granted that he will have several players in the lineup who can be counted among the elite. There are, however, occasions when the surprises are pleasant. The Republic of Ireland, for instance have been able to count on Robbie Keane and Scotland will rejoice should Manchester United's Darren Fletcher overcome the ulcerative colitis that has kept him on the sidelines.
It is an obvious disadvantage that a player of his standing should be unavailable for Scotland, but such countries expect nothing other than difficulties. When a team at that level does achieve a measure of success there is a pride and delight that the mighty countries, with all their expectations and self-regard, will never savour.