THE media has been awash with stories about sport and identity.

There is no doubt that the success of the Scotland’s women’s team qualifying for the World Cup – and in such dramatic circumstances – has given Scottish football a new cylinder of oxygen, at a time that was badly needed.

In the words of Shelley Kerr, the Scotland boss, we are witnessing a watershed moment – a defining time for women’s sport in Scotland.

Last week, mural artist Ella Masters was out in Leith painting a stunning portrait of Scotland’s cavalier winger Claire Emslie. The fact that is was part of a clever marketing strategy by the social network Twitter did not undermine its impact.

Looking down on Leith and framed by a garland of thistles, Emslie personified all the modern self-confidence that has brought a generation of young women into the Scottish national consciousness.

I confess I am a justified sinner and have a deeply divided human character when it comes to Scotland and football. Much as I relish the wave of feminine optimism sweeping the country, I cannot shake of the Vietnam flashbacks and battlefield horrors of past campaigns. It would be naive to think the past has been exorcised and a big bit of me is anxious about the formidable tasks to come.

Scotland has an opening game against the auld enemy England, later today. Better resourced and with a much wider pool of players, England are one of the stand-out teams in women’s football. That baptism of fire is followed by a group match against former winners Japan, one of the tournament favourites. It is not beyond the realm of possibility – and typical of Scotland’s harsh luck in the lottery of life – that England could play Japan in July’s final.

The feel-good factor around women’s football has spilled over into the men’s game, where the unanimously popular appointment of Kilmarnock’s Steve Clarke has given renewed hope that our national men’s team may escape from the basket-case category it has been confined to in recent years.

Comparisons of the male and female game are still snagged by a barely concealed sexism and whilst some of that is eroding, it will take a few more gallons of prune juice before it is fully cleared through the Scottish system.

I take an angular view on this much trolled debate. Difference is good and one very obvious disjuncture is that the men’s game is caught up in a spiral of professionalised global capital, whilst the women’s game maintains some of the likeable characteristics of small nationhood.

We hear much about dedication in sport but Scotland’s men’s squad has been beset with call-offs by players who see the more lucrative club football in the English Premiership as higher than national pride. This trait has not yet stained the women’s game, where at least some of the Scotland squad are part-time players and appear deeply proud to have been selected to represent Scotland.

Nicola Docherty, a swashbuckling left-back who plays in a similar role to Scotland’s most successful contemporary player Liverpool’s Andy Robertson, is a case in point. Robertson is comfortably a millionaire, whilst Docherty has been given extended leave from her job as a care-worker in Edinburgh where she works with dementia sufferers.

You could not get a more stark example of the gender gap than that.

Fans see all of this and many are charmed by the honesty and integrity of old-school patriotism rather than the heightened professionalism of agents, image rights and glamour clubs. The news that Liverpool are to play Italian giants Napoli at Murrayfield Stadium was announced last week, to exhausted indifference. Even with Liverpool heading the poster it felt like a tired carnival of brand exploitation, not a competitive football match.

Ironically, although he is at the pinnacle of the men’s game, Robertson’s success in winning a Champions League medal for Liverpool has also played to that feeling of honest endeavour and decent values. When he tweeted that he was “just a wee guy from Glasgow living the dream” it signalled not just a humility but a belief that his origins and upbringing mattered to him and that playing for Scotland was an honour not a shop-window.

In more innocent times, before money exacted such a punishing price on the culture of football, Robertson might have been described as a role model, a young man among multi-millionaires who could still find common causes in the streets he grew up in.

A fascinating photograph of Robertson was doing the rounds on social media last week. It showed him dressed for a public park kick-about with three other young Dundee United apprentices. He is wearing goalie gloves because it was his turn in goal. It could have been a photo from Scotland from decades ago and it signalled a “down-to-earth-ness” that can be seen across Scottish society.

But by far the most remarkable story of football’s strange codes of identification came not from Robertson, but his Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah Hamed Mahrous Ghaly, better known as Mo Salah, the Egyptian talisman whose goals have driven Liverpool to a newfound greatness.

According to a new research paper, Salah has been seen as a positive force in tackling Islamophobia on Merseyside. Salah kneels in prayer after scoring, his wife is often seen in public wearing a hijab and his daughter, Makka, – who in the trope of modern football often accompanies her father on the pitch – is named after Islam’s holy shrine at Mecca.

The Salah story is remarkable and if it is even remotely true then it talks to a very contemporary cross-cultural form of role-modelling unlike anything we have seen in football before. Against the grain of general crime figures, the number of hate crimes on Merseyside have fallen by 18.9% and an analysis of 15 million online tweets exposed much higher rates of online Islamophobia with other English Premier League fans. Liverpool at 3.4% against a league average of 7.2%.

Football is no stranger to the pressures of globalisation and the impact that the movement of players has had on

national identity. As people move around the world for economic reasons, or in many case to escape from famine and war, the make-up on national teams is changing out of all recognition.

Fifa has tried to adapt to change, coming up with a whole string of rules, including residency, citizenship and the so-called “Granny Rule”, which allows teams to field ancestral players whose grandparents were born in a country. Scotland has exploited the rule on numerous occasions – not always with outstanding success. Much as I still think we should apply the rule when it suits, especially if it was to unearth a world-class player, it should not be employed simply to extend mediocrity.

I would prefer the SFA and Steve Clarke’s reign to apply a self-denying ordinance and only recruit players from outside Scotland who are of genuine world tournament potential. The bias there should always be on the young and emergent talent and not those that have had workmanlike careers in the English Premiership.

Although the hyper-professionalisation of football and the pressures of a global game have partially eroded old-school definitions of patriotism and national identity, the collective belief that Kerr has instilled in our women’s team has given them an indefinable inner-strength, one that has helped them through a tricky qualifying section.

Pride still matters in life and whatever the outcome of the mountainous games yet to come, Scotland’s women have done us proud.