Mixed media concept inspired by Man On! @QueerSporting with main (center) photo by Jonathan Elderfield. Design/layout by Brian Gibson.

The Beautiful Game Meets A Beautiful Life

A tribute to Daryl Grove, co-host of the Total Soccer Show and beloved friend to many.

Last week the world lost an inspiring soccer enthusiast, devoted friend, and all-around good human being.

Daryl Grove, co-founder and beloved host of the wildly popular podcast, the Total Soccer Show (TSS), based here in Richmond, passed away after a nearly two year battle with stage IV colon cancer. He was 40 years old. Soccer fans across the globe are mourning his death, as are Grove’s family, friends, and loved ones.

For all who knew him, Daryl wasn’t just a podcasting pioneer, but the epitome of altruism and kindness. 

“[Daryl] was a man who woke up every day with… the absolute goal of making life better for those around him, and that level of effort isn’t easy,” says Taylor Rockwell, his co-host, business partner, and longtime friend. “It takes a belief in the goodness of the world and one’s ability to help out to believe that even the smallest gesture or kind word can make a difference.”

Originally from England, Daryl came to Richmond by way of Michigan, where his wife, Shannon O’Neill, grew up. They met at film school in Ireland and, after visiting a friend in Richmond, moved to RVA in 2004. 

Daryl joined the Central Virginia Soccer Association (CVSA) as a way to meet fellow soccer players and get involved with the community. It was here that he and Taylor became friends. On and off the field, their discussions revolved around all things soccer.

Daryl Grove (left) and Taylor Rockwell recording the Total Soccer Show in studio (October 2017). Photo by Stephanie Dowda Demer.
When it came to the subject of podcasts, they realized that an American perspective was missing – an insight that became the inspiration behind their decision to create the Total Soccer Show.

In 2009, after pitching a demo to independent station WRIR, the Total Soccer Show made its humble debut as a local radio show, providing game insight, analysis, and commentary in an honest, entertaining way. Between the CVSA and Richmond Kickers, the show established a solid fan base among the city’s burgeoning soccer community.

Slowly but surely, the podcast gained more attention, with thousands of listeners tuning in to each episode from all over the country. Since those early years, it’s grown and evolved into the #1 independent soccer podcast in the United States – one of the longest-running and most-listened-to shows of its kind in North American soccer.

While produced in Richmond, the Total Soccer Show has also garnered a huge international following, as evidenced by its loyal subscribers and 17K Twitter followers. Up until last year, it had no major network backing – a testament to the hard work and dedication that Daryl and Taylor put into the show, literally building it from the ground up. 

Much of the show’s success came from the natural rapport the two shared and their obvious passion for soccer.

In the midst of thought-provoking dialogue, they exchanged jokes and clever banter, keeping listeners both informed and amused. Their knowledge of the sport impressed many, but it was their relatability that made the show so popular. For fans, who ranged from soccer novices to experts and even professionals, the show felt like an extension of their social life. Daryl and Taylor weren’t just voices on a podcast, they were like old friends.

As an expat with an unapologetic enthusiasm for US soccer, Daryl brought a unique point of view and personality to the Total Soccer Show. People were endeared by his charismatic British accent (Halesowen, to be exact), sharp wit and kind-hearted spirit. Daryl opened every episode with his signature greeting, a cheery “Hello and welcome,”  that immediately set a tone of familiarity and warmth to devout listeners.

Daryl and Taylor, in a typical banter, entertain crowds in their first performance at the Heineken Club at Audi Field (July 2019). Photo by Morgan Tencza.
While the show must go on, the absence of Daryl and his contributions will surely be felt by all who tune in regularly.

Since his passing, an outpouring of fans have taken to social media to express their sentiments about Daryl, including some big names in the international soccer community and organizations like the U.S. Men’s National Team, Major League Soccer, and World Football Talk. 

American sports journalist Grant Wahl spoke of the Total Soccer Show’s indelible influence with US soccer fans, and described Daryl as “one of the kindest, most talented and hardest-working people I’ve ever met.”

Sports columnist Tim Steller stated, “Those of us who love American soccer have lost one of our most enthusiastic friends, Daryl Grove of @TotalSoccerShow. An English immigrant who came to love the American game and players, he set a high standard for friendliness, humor, and enthusiasm and will be sorely missed.” 

In a tweet by U.S. Soccer, former pro and TV soccer analyst Jordan Angeli added, “This is a guy who’s going to live on forever in how many people he brought to the game here in the United States… what you hear and who he is on the podcast is exactly who he is in real life.”

“He is a loving man. He loves the game and he loves people a lot.” 

Retired soccer legend and Fox Sports analyst Alexi Lalas offered some moving words as he contemplated the significant impact Daryl made on the soccer world:

“Daryl’s incredibly sweet and kind and curious mind was something to behold… and an incredible comfort, I know to myself, and to a lot of other people,” he said in a video on Twitter. “He is as important as anybody who ever kicked the ball and maybe even more so at times, because he furthered the conversation. He continually gave a platform. He continued to give us his opinion on things. He educated us. And in doing so, he made American soccer better.”

Daryl and Taylor meet up with retired soccer legend and Fox Sports analyst Alexi Lalas (January 2018). Photo courtesy of Alexi Lalas.
Last year, the Total Soccer Show began a partnership with the Richmond Kickers, producing a weekly review of their games.

At last Saturday’s game, the team put out a signed, personalized jersey in Daryl’s honor and made this statement on the Richmond Kickers Facebook page

“Based here in Richmond, Daryl touched the lives of much of the United States soccer community both locally and throughout the country. Daryl passed away Thursday night [October 22, 2020] after a courageous and well-documented battle with cancer. A battle that has inspired millions and was further proof of the spirit and enthusiasm Daryl brought to every aspect of his life. We want to thank Daryl for always taking the time to talk with all of us. We love you, Daryl.” 

Meg Linehan, staff writer for sports journalism website The Athletic, expressed her appreciation for the Total Soccer Show’s thoughtful, meaningful coverage of women’s soccer.

“As difficult as this moment is, I think it shows us the best of what this space can be… a community where we fight for each other and we appreciate each other and we support each other – with love.”

Yet another poignant tribute came from a young man who wrote an op-ed in The Post of Athens, Ohio. Will Cunningham, a sophomore at Ohio University and longtime fan of the Total Soccer Show, stated in his essay that Daryl was an inspiration to him and “one of the biggest reasons I got into sports journalism.”

On a 2015 visit to Richmond, Will’s dad surprised him by organizing a lunch with Daryl and Taylor, who took the time to meet with the exuberant teenager. Will stated that Daryl “will be remembered by many as the perfect podcast host, who was able to combine thoughtful analysis, witty comments and more puns than you could count. He was the best of us, and he will be dearly missed.” 

Pondering the life of his good friend, Adam Whittaker Snavely wrote on his blog that he hoped Daryl would “excuse us, as we confront the impending reality of waking up in a world where he does not also wake up. We are sad because he made us all so happy, and interested, and intrigued with the universe around us and how it pertains to a little game we all like to talk about.”

The Richmond Kickers displayed a jersey in Daryl’s honor, at their game last weekend, signed by members of the team (October 2020). Photo courtesy of the Richmond Kickers.
Beyond the air waves of the Total Soccer Show, Daryl’s impact extended to hands-on work in the Richmond community.

As founder and director of nonprofit Richmond Street Soccer, Daryl organized a soccer league for people in substance abuse recovery, many coming from The Healing Place, a local residential recovery program. In pre-pandemic times, the team typically practiced once a week and participated in the local CVSA league, as well as in regional and national Street Soccer USA tournaments. 

Having played with Daryl on the Richmond City Football Club, Thad Williamson attended that first kickoff meeting back in 2009. In a heartfelt Facebook post, he summed up his admiration for his cherished friend, stating: 

“As much as he loved the sport, for Daryl, soccer was the medium not the end. He mainly cared about people… he cared about the injustices of our society and wanted to do his part to address them. And he did – he used the game he loved to build community, and made a long-haul commitment, week after week, year after year. Daryl Grove was an amazing human being and one of the people who made Richmond worth living in. He was full of wit, intelligence, and humor. Daryl was always up for an on-point ironic observation – which is a major reason people loved hanging out with him. I feel privileged to have had so much time with him, and I am absolutely crushed that he has gone after a courageous fight, far too soon.”

Players from Richmond Street Soccer (May 2016), a nonprofit soccer league organized by Daryl (kneeling, second from left) to help people in substance abuse recovery. Photo courtesy of Richmond Street Soccer.
It’s no surprise that Daryl was admired by many in the soccer world, but he also had many adoring non-soccer fans – myself included.

I came to know Daryl through his wife, my dear friend, Shannon. A few years ago, my husband and I were fortunate to be welcomed into their circle of friends.

Over the course of various happy hours, porch gatherings, and dinner parties, I don’t think I fully grasped I was in the presence of a niche celebrity. But that’s Daryl for you – consistently humble, unassuming, and never seeking any fanfare. Often running late, Shannon would explain he was finishing up the podcast, and without fail, he showed up, fully present and by her side.

As always, Daryl remained committed to the things – and people – that matter.

While Daryl and Taylor certainly had their own chemistry, it was nothing compared to the magic that he and Shannon shared. Their relationship was the ideal union of mutual love, care, and respect. They not only supported but championed each other’s independent interests and personal pursuits. Seeing the other thrive and in their element truly made them happy.

In a gripping, beautiful Facebook post, Shannon mentions that from the beginning of his diagnosis, Daryl made one thing clear: “he loved his life as it was and he would change nothing about it. He spent it loving and enjoying friends, daily FaceTime with his family back in England, traveling when he could, walking the dog, sitting on our porch, being my best friend and, of course, recording the Total Soccer Show.”

Daryl’s contentment to the everyday speaks volumes to his outlook on life.

It wasn’t about grand celebrations (unless his favorite team, the Wolves, were winning, of course), it was about all the little moments that happen in between – over time, they added up to a glorious existence. 

Like analyzing soccer, Daryl focused on the details and nuances of life – things that many of us often overlook or take for granted. He wasn’t sentimental about material things (with maybe the exception of a few favorite tee shirts) but rather, provocative conversation, enthralling soccer, and good times with family and friends who felt like family. 

As American sportswriter Grantland Rice once said, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” And Daryl played the game of life exceptionally well.

Daryl with Shannon, his wife of nearly 15 years, enjoying life. Photo courtesy of Shannon O’Neill.
It’s a reminder to all of us to pursue your passions, tell people you love them and in general, be kind.

While Daryl’s legacy will live on in the Total Soccer Show and in all the different people whose lives he touched, Shannon wants more for him – namely, to increase awareness of colon cancer and the importance of early screenings to prevent others from the heartache they both experienced.

According to the American Cancer Society, “colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and in women, and the second most common cause of cancer deaths when men and women are combined.” Earlier this year, RVA Mag ran a story on “Hitting Cancer Below The Belt,” about the silence that typically surrounds colorectal cancer. And just two months ago, the death of Hollywood celebrity Chadwick Boseman from colorectal cancer served as a wake-up call for young adults. The Black Panther star was 43 years old.

What’s particularly tragic is that colon cancer is treatable if detected early on – however, many who are diagnosed experience no signs or symptoms and the disease is often mistaken for less severe gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.

Additionally, most U.S. insurance plans only cover the costs for colorectal cancer screenings starting at age 50, despite the fact that colon cancer rates in younger adults are rising

Daryl being interviewed as “Richmond’s resident soccer-loving Brit” (June 2014). Photo courtesy of RVANews
For these reasons and more, it’s imperative to be proactive about medical checkups, because unfortunately, cancer can strike anyone – even the young, healthy, and active. 

In an interview with Protagonist Soccer last year, in the midst of intense chemotherapy, Daryl reflected on his situation with his trademark optimism: 

“Before the diagnosis, I was keenly aware that life was good. I love my wife, love my friends, love my family, love doing TSS. The diagnosis did make me take a brief pause to assess, like, am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing with my life? And I found the answer was yes. So in a paradoxical way it’s been really life affirming because I know not everyone is fortunate enough to have that same answer, often for reasons beyond their control. So now I wake up every day knowing how lucky I am and it makes me determined to really enjoy all the things in life that I love so much.”

Whether you knew Daryl for two years or twenty, lived in Richmond or thousands of miles away, laughed with him in person or through the podcast, you were a friend. As many have pointed out, Daryl wouldn’t want us to linger in our sadness and grief. Instead, he’d want us to channel our love for him into action. 

So let’s honor our friend Daryl, not only by spreading the word on colon cancer, but by living life to the fullest and never taking a single day for granted. 

If you would like to pay tribute to Daryl Grove, please consider being a part of Team Daryl Grove by making a donation on his GoFundMe page, or to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance.

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Rachel Everett

Rachel Scott Everett is co-founder and creative director at EVERGIB, a nomadic creative studio specializing in strategically led advertising and branding. A champion of big ideas and the power of storytelling, Rachel believes creativity can be used as a force for good to improve the world we live in.