In other words, if you didn't play for one of the Premier League's 'Big Four' clubs or weren't part of the famous 'golden generation' there was little point in waiting for a call-up.
But as England prepare for a friendly against Sweden on Wednesday it is clear new manager Roy Hodgson is taking a very different attitude -- and spreading his net as far as it will go.
His squad for the match in Stockholm includes the likes of Liverpool's Raheem Sterling, who is just 17, Wilfried Zaha of second-tier Championship leaders Crystal Palace, Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who plays in Scotland, and 31-year-old Leon Osman who plays for Everton -- and has done so for the last decade without being noticed by a succession of England managers.
It's a selection policy Hodgson hopes will help him avoid falling into the same trap as his predecessors who stuck with exactly the same players and got exactly the same results in their fruitless quest to win England's first major trophy since a World Cup triumph on home soil back in 1966.
"I think there's certainly been quite a change of personnel since the new manager came in," admitted Osman, renowned for retaining possession -- a quality which Hodgson has identified as crucial for the future of his team.
"He seems to be looking around - which from those players' point of view is great. From the point of view of the England squad it keeps you on your toes a bit more too.
"People have mentioned I don't give the ball away often and maybe that's what the manager is looking for, to keep the ball for longer periods. You will have to ask him. But I'm delighted that I might get the opportunity to do that."
Hodgson had already brought through the likes of Manchester United's Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley plus Chelsea's Ryan Bertrand and Gary Cahill -- even before the latest tranche of new caps; and he has ignored the claims of veterans such as Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry in a bid to find a new blend.
He has also shown he is not afraid to select players who are not playing regularly for their clubs; breaking a rule that restricted so many of his predecessors but now allows the likes of Welbeck and Chelsea's Daniel Sturridge to dream of an England career even when they sit on the bench in the Premier League.
Sturridge, who spends most of his time at Stamford Bridge waiting for Fernando Torres to be injured, is particularly thankful for that opportunity; so when asked if he believed it is now possible to be a regular for England even if you don't start matches for your club side, his answer was delivered swiftly and decisively.
"I do, yes," he insisted. "I think the England manager has made it clear that players don't have to start for their clubs to play for England.
"It makes it easier for us that we don't feel a lot of pressure if we don't play 10 out of 10 games; because the manager (Hodgson) understands that situation."
Sturridge, who insists he is a centre-forward not a winger despite playing out wide for much of his Chelsea career could well get an opportunity in Stockholm with Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe both injured; and he has the self-belief to suggest he can take the opportunity.
"I do believe in myself," he said. "That's one thing I've always had. Looking at someone like Didier Drogba -- he's always said to me 'Studge, it doesn't really matter about anything as long as you believe in yourself'".
"I don't need anybody to tell me I'm great and I'm fantastic. All I need to do is to be given the chance."
There certainly seem to be opportunities with England right now for ambitious players both young and old. After all, Hodgson's squad also includes Ryan Shawcross of Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur's young defender Steven Caulker.
The net has been cast wide -- but is the quality of the catch good enough?