Is it just me or will everyone else tune in to this afternoon’s Women’s Euro 2022 final at Wembley with a sense of relief, one born from actually wanting England to win for once – or, at the very least, not actively wanting them to lose?

I hope it isn’t just me. I don’t think so.

If I’m right, either a lot has changed in a year in terms of our attitudes, or there’s a fundamental difference in the way we view the England national football team when it features fewer tattoos and more pony-tails. To which let us add: and when the crowd it attracts is populated not by drunken knuckle-draggers yelling obscenities at players, officials and opposition fans, but by families, predominantly women and girls. I don’t know about you, but it makes my heart sing to see a rainbow flag fluttering in the home end and know the bearer isn’t taking his/her/their life in their hands to fly it. It’s not a sight you’ll see much at stadia hosting men’s games. Flags yes, gay rainbows no.

So which of those theories is right? Probably not the first one. A poll during last year’s men’s competition, the Covid-delayed Euro 2020 championship, found that 66% of Scots were in the Anyone But England camp. Plus ça change, as they probably don’t say in the Leave-voting Red Wall seats. I don’t think attitudes to the England men have changed that much in 12 months.

In fact you might be surprised the percentage wasn’t higher in 2021. If you recall, Gareth Southgate’s team rode their luck, shamelessly leveraged home advantage and, despite being played off the park by Scotland in the group stages (I’m reading all this off a sub-Reddit, honest), managed to make it to the final. They eventually lost to Italy, an event remembered less for the scintillating football on display (there wasn’t any) and more for the serious pre-match disorder, of which there was a great deal.

Hundreds of ticketless fans tried to force their way into the ground before the match and there were allegations of knives being pulled on stewards and of female fans being sexually assaulted. A damning report on the incident afterwards by hard-talking crossbench peer Baroness Casey called it “a day of national shame” wrought by “a horde of ticketless, drunken and drugged up thugs who chose to abuse innocent, vulnerable and disabled people, as well as police officers, volunteers and Wembley staff.”

One more time: plus ça change.

So a year on, I don’t imagine Scots are any more inclined than they have ever been to look kindly on the England men’s team, or on the rowdy supporters who for decades now have had a reputation for violence, disorder and the baring of beer bellies in built-up areas.

Why, then, are we more forgiving where the women are concerned? It’s not that it matters less. The nine million people who watched the semi-final against Sweden are testament to that. And by now most people are on board with the idea that football is football and it doesn’t matter who is playing it. Those who aren’t can’t have missed the message beamed into their homes by pitch-side advertising hoardings as part of a campaign by car maker Volkswagen: ‘Women play football #NotWomensFootball’.

A little confusingly worded, perhaps, but you get the drift.

Volkswagen are based in the German city of Wolfsburg, by the way, home to a successful men’s team and an even more successful women’s side. They have won six Bundesliga titles, enjoyed back-to-back Champions League wins in the early Noughties and their star striker is Alexandra Popp, also an Olympic gold medallist and the woman who will lead the line against England today. It was her brace against France in Wednesday’s semi-final which secured the German’s place in the final.

No, I think what is so appealing about the Women’s Euro 2022 Championships and the women’s game in general is that it remains the Beautiful Game in form – the skills on display have been as mouth-watering as the goals have been spectacular – but shorn of the bullshit, sleaze, macho posturing, corruption and decadence which surrounds the men’s game. It’s like a reset, a Year Zero. This column has aired the thought before, but it’s easy to believe the future of the game is female.

And what’s not to like about those celebrated Lionesses, as the England women’s team are known? How can you not warm to players like super-sub Alessia Russo, former Charlton Athletic mascot, whose audacious back heel against Sweden would have graced any tournament and any player? Or captain Leah Williamson, one of the best passers of the ball these eyes have ever seen? Or Yorkshire girl Beth Mead, assuaged with self-doubt as an aspiring teenage player and who insisted on finishing university even as a career in the women’s game beckoned? Now a star striker with Arsenal, she is joint top scorer at the Euros along with Popp.

Finally, what about that eight-year-old girl, a Lioness in spirit if not yet in deed, whose wild, joyful, uninhibited celebrations in the aftermath of England’s semi-final win went viral and who was later located, interviewed by presenter Gabby Logan and told she was bring invited to Wembley to watch the final and to cheer on her heroines? Beat that for TV moment of the year.

When Logan handed back to commentator Jonathan Pearce, he actually choked up. “I’m crying after that interview there I have to say,” he sobbed. “I have never cried when you have handed back to me. Oh my God. Lovely, lovely to see her there at Wembley.”

So there you go: women’s football reduces grown men to tears – but in a good way.

A different era, a different game, the same old rivals at the same storied venue. On July 30, 1966 England played West Germany in a World Cup final and Scotland striker Denis Law famously chose to play golf instead of watch, turning his back on the showdown and effectively giving the Auld Enemy two fingers.

There’s no love lost when the respective women’s teams meet these days but I don’t imagine Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert or Arsenal’s Jen Beattie, Scotland stars both, will be anything but supportive of team-mates such as Leah Williamson, Millie Bright and Fran Kirby when the whistle blows this afternoon.

Or maybe I’m projecting, imagining a sense of community and cohesion which isn’t really there or which, if it is, won’t last long as multi-million pound contracts, massive sponsorship deals and super-agents demanding fat fees come into play. Already teenage Portuguese prodigy Kika Nazareth has become the first woman to be represented by Jorge Mendes, whose clients include a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. Leah Williamson, meanwhile, has recently been snapped up by luxury fashion house Gucci, and although the £200,000 annual salary England’s Lucy Bronze commands is less than the weekly wage of some male Premiership players, she has signed endorsement deals with Pepsi, EE and Visa.

“More and more brands – at least the savvy ones – are recognising the commercial value of women’s football,” marketing consultant Eric Fulwiler told the BBC last week. “It’s under-priced compared to men’s football and the current success of the Lionesses will help start to close the commercial gap with the men.”

Under-priced? Gulp.

‘Against Modern Football’ is a banner you see at games sometimes, part of a fan campaign protesting against stuff like multi-million pound contracts, massive sponsorship deals and super-agents demanding fat fees. Women’s football is modern in every sense we want it to be, so there’s no need to be against it. But perhaps the danger signs are there.

Sure, the Beautiful Game has to work hard to achieve parity for women in terms of salaries, opportunities and grassroots support, but it mustn’t lose the purity and the spirit which has made it such a refreshing watch. It mustn’t let goons and idiots crash the party and try to change the music. Football has a second chance here and a clean slate. It must not squander that.