They say a picture tells a thousand words and, looking at the photo at the top of this article, it’s hard not to believe them.
On the face of it, that shot is just a wonderful piece of photography from Getty Images’ Harry Trump, who was handily stood in the perfect position to capture the immediate aftermath of Yakou Meite’s fourth goal at Plymouth Argyle on Tuesday night. But, as with the most exquisite art, the meaning behind what’s going on in that photo gives it a far greater significance.
It’s an image that represents defiance as much as joy; dogged resilience in reaction to vile bigotry. You’ll know the racist incident to which I’m referring - the use of a word that, understandably, deeply upset Meite when it was sent to his personal Instagram account after he missed a penalty against Cardiff City.
To his credit, Meite made the brave decision after that game to speak out, to not be intimidated into silence by one lowlife on social media. As he told BBC Berkshire, he got an outpouring of sympathy from fans across the game when he went public with what had happened.
“This abuse came from one person. If I’d chosen to delete my Twitter and Instagram accounts after receiving it, I wouldn’t have seen the hundreds of messages of support I’ve had from fans.
“That’s not just Reading fans, but from hundreds of other clubs too. This is an issue that concerns everyone, not just black players, as this type of abuse is everywhere.”
With Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham and Manchester United’s Paul Pogba receiving similar messages recently, it’s felt like the fight to stamp racism out of the game has only got even harder than it already was - not least given Twitter’s tepid response.
The social media outlet - a platform for so much bigotry - was panned for announcing that it would actively monitor the accounts of 50 leading footballers. How far does that go towards expunging the scourge of racism? That list of 50 would surely include Pogba and perhaps Abraham, but what about Meite?
Given what he’d gone through, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Meite would be low on confidence for his return to first-team action after a brief injury - a start at Plymouth Argyle in Tuesday night’s League Cup clash. And yet, in that relentlessly positive style that’s so typical of his character, Meite took that story of hatred and flipped it on its head.
With the scores level at 2-2, the Royals having twice got back on terms after going behind, Meite effectively won the game. On 87 minutes, he won and converted a penalty, before slotting home in the 91st minute to finish off a counter and secure Reading’s place in the third round of the League Cup. The fact that those two goals came in front of a loving away end only added to the occasion.
What you see there is not just a goal celebration - it means so much more.
Arms spread out in defiance, Meite could almost be channelling Maximus Decimus Meridius’ are you not entertained? monologue from Gladiator. But where the movie leans into frustration and rage - which would be understandable emotions given the aftermath of the last time he took to the pitch - Meite unleashes his joy.
I just love that great big smile. Joy is infectious, isn’t it?
And at a time when it feels frustratingly hard to eradicate the scourges of racism and bigotry, whether from football or society as a whole, joy is the antidote. It’s the belief that, whatever hatred is put out - whether on Twitter, Instagram or anywhere else - relentless positivity will always win.
Yakou Meite encapsulates that. What better response to the lowlife that sent him that message - or anyone else who might - than to score two goals, win a game and put Reading through to the next round of the cup, beaming with joy all the while?
Of course, there’s one final element to that photo that isn’t in the frame: the 800 or so travelling fans. It’s their love that’s being lapped up by Meite at that moment, their support that visibly means so much to him. He spoke of the outpouring of support over social media when he went public with that message, but that outpouring of support was there for him at Home Park too.