When Daryl Grove and Taylor Rockwell started the Total Soccer Show podcast way back in 2009, soccer podcasts were not the cottage industry they are today. Not by a long shot.
“You know that ‘frog in boiling water’ thing where you sort of don’t notice because it happens so slowly? We started – genuinely – with zero listeners for the first show,” recalled Grove in a conversation with MLSsoccer.com last week. “It’s grown slowly.”
Back at the start, TSS was mainly a half-hour radio show on WRIR, an over-the-air station in their home community of Richmond, Virginia. The duo started a podcast to use outtakes and expand on conversations that didn’t fit into that narrow timeframe. Both men did the shows in their spare time, and dreamed of it someday becoming something bigger.
Today, TSS a business unto itself, one of the longest-running and most-listened-to shows of its kind in North American soccer, with its own studio and office space, a regular schedule of five episodes a week, an impressive lineup of sponsors and advertisers and thousands of listeners from coast to coast.
Even at that, they didn’t really understand the imprint they’d made on the landscape until the unthinkable happened last month.
When Grove experienced sudden stomach pain on a trip to Florida with his wife, Shannon O’Neill, a hospital visit led to a stunning revelation: He was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer that was rapidly spreading to his liver.
Suddenly not only was Grove’s life at risk, so was everything he and Rockwell had built. The two operate TSS on a full-time basis, squeezing in side work like freelance writing and soccer coaching to help pay the bills – and when it came to bills, Grove and O’Neill, like many Americans in their situation, were faced with some overwhelming figures.
Last week, as he prepared to undergo surgery to remove a cancerous tumor – requiring part of his colon to be removed and reattached – and do a biopsy on his liver, one of Grove’s friends in Richmond started a GoFundMe page to seek donations to help defray his medical costs and lost wages. And when he and Rockwell revealed the news of his cancer in their next edition of TSS, the American soccer community collectively leaped into action.
“We got people asking if there was a GoFundMe, so then we shared it with listeners, and that’s when it really took off,” said Grove. “Loads of listeners donated really generously and then the really unexpected part for me was, the whole American soccer community started sharing it on Twitter and it went really big after that.”
Grove says he was stunned to see how the word got around. Podcasting counterparts like MLSsoccer.com’s own ExtraTime Radio and soccer luminaries like Alexi Lalas and Grant Wahl helped spread the word – “Landon Donovan donated and shared it, and I’ve never met Landon or interviewed him or anything, so that was really nice,” he marveled – and in a matter of days, the lofty fundraising goal of $100,000 his friend Kathleen Toler had somewhat arbitrarily set was suddenly within reach.
“It’s been amazing to see, from the GoFundMe and the emails we’ve gotten, the outpouring of love and support for Daryl – and the show, but I mean for Daryl specifically,” explained Rockwell. “It’s been sort of a strangely reassuring moment at a time when things are pretty scary. There’s literally thousands of people out there who are kind of sending energy and prayers and whatever to Daryl, and that’s been pretty incredible.”
Said Grove: “A lot of people sort of felt like telling us why they listen to the show, and like they’ve used it to get through tough times and things like that, and all that stuff for me and Taylor, that’s been really heartening to read. That people have genuinely used the show as an outlet when things were bad. We had no idea that people were using the show in a way that was that beneficial – we thought it was more just throwaway, if that makes sense, in a way that most soccer analysis on a podcast probably should be.”
As gratified as they’ve been by the response, donations are still welcome. The $100,000 figure is not a specific target in terms of costs or care, and no one knows exactly what lies ahead for Grove in either department. He is likely destined for years of expensive treatment, and curtailed earnings.
“I definitely don’t want anyone who maybe couldn’t afford it parting with money just to try and get me to 100K, because I think it’s already at a level where it’s going to cover my deductible and co-pays and all that stuff for maybe at least a good five years or so,” he explained. “That’s the big thing it’s going to go to is – because I’ve got insurance, not perfect insurance but OK insurance, but there’s still going to be a lot of out-of-pocket stuff that we have to pay.
“The most likely scenario with how they treat this is it’s going to be chemotherapy and radiation and stuff that’s going to take a few cycles and maybe a few years. Maybe forever, just to keep it at bay as best they can.”
An Englishman who emigrated to the US years ago after meeting O’Neill in Ireland, Grove has kept his spirits high enough to crack dry jokes about his situation.
“Seeing the GoFundMe page finally convinced my parents that the podcast was a real thing, and not just a radio show that wasn’t on the radio,” he deadpanned. “I think they were very confused by it until they saw the comments from people. So that’s a major thing to come out of that for me.”
After a long stint at a Richmond hospital, Grove was discharged over the weekend. He admits he was taken aback by the pain involved with the stomach incisions required for his surgery, but is up for the battle ahead, and has no plans to quit his podcasting duties anytime soon. That’s music to the ears of many listeners – and Rockwell, too.
“Just him not being here has made me realize how much he does,” said Grove’s longtime friend and co-host. “And his attitude to it all has been incredible – because I’m pretty emotional and I’ve definitely cried a bunch about it and freaked out about it, and he’s just kind of approached it the whole time like, ‘nah, I’m going to be fine. I’ve got a plan, it’s going to be OK.’”
Readers can donate to Grove's cancer fight here.