Testimonial of Steven 'Pops' Gordon
Describe the type of person you were before you joined AEC?
Before I joined AEC I was already a relatively outgoing person with a lot of energy and creativity- I believe that tumbling was partly responsible for this. I was obsessed! I’d watch gymnastics on TV, borrow books from the library and visualise myself performing amazing skills. This was my education; I taught myself and practiced anywhere I could. Living in South London, this wasn’t easy. With no gymnastics gym readily available, I’d practice on grass, in the playground, or any free space on my local estate. Not something I’d recommend, trust me. But I was so determined, keeping safe from injury was the least of my priorities.
Throughout my secondary school years no one really knew of my acrobatic talents. I kept it very distant from my school social life; until one day I performed an aerial in the school assembly hall. Rashid, a guy I knew saw me do it, was impressed, and we instantly became closer. His background was mixed martial arts so he too was learning the same skills as me and was trying to incorporate them into his sport. We started going open gyms together; it was here we met Erol and Kay. We formed a close friendship and became a tricking squad.’ We’d perform at shows, give performances and take part at local community events. We kept getting better and better. Fortunately, this was about the time that YouTube really started to take off; it became our greatest source of inspiration. We were addicted to it, and were always looking for ways to improve and progress. They were good times.
What attracted you to cheerleading?
There came a time where Erol, Rashid and Kay all got involved in cheerleading. I have to be honest, in the beginning I was never really interested in cheerleading; it just wasn’t something I could see myself doing. I used to go and meet them after cheer training and they used to tell Angela that I could tumble- it was during the road to nationals so they were recruiting to finalise their routine. I was adamant that I wasn’t going to do it; I had the American stereotype stuck in my head. But the boys continued to heckle me over it. Eventually I agreed to do one competition, just so they’d leave me alone! I remember my first training session. Angela asked what tumbling I could do. I thought I’d warm up with a back handspring, and… I failed it-due to weight-lifting all week, obviously. Her look was everything, as if to say, this is the guy you’ve been telling me about? Really?! I was embarrassed to say the least, but I eventually won her round.
When I competed at my first competition, Future Cheer Nationals, the way I felt about cheerleading changed all together and hasn’t been the same since. The atmosphere was electrifying! Taking the floor for the first time in front of so many people, and the intensity they created- it was euphoric. It was then I became addicted to cheerleading.
How did Cheerleading and AEC impact on/ shape you as a person?
Tumbling is predominately a solo sport focusing on the ability and skill of an individual. Cheerleading is something completely different; it’s about the team. I had never been a part of something like it before, a place where everyone was on the same page, working towards the same goals. The camaraderie was brilliant, athletes always trying to lift each other up to the next level. The most valuable lesson I learned from this was the value of teamwork. I was able to create special bonds with people, and become part of something so much bigger than myself.
Since cheerleading for AEC and Unity All-stars Black/ Steel what have you been able to go on and achieve?
I came to cheerleading relatively late in comparison to other athletes. Even so, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy tremendous success across the two programmes I’ve cheered for- Ascension Eagles, and Unity All-Stars. I’ve won multiple national championships, competed at Worlds 7 times, was a 2009 European open Co-Ed champion and 2014 European individual champion. All are amazing personal and team achievements that mean a lot to me.
However, the cheerleading achievement that means the most to me is working with Team England. The whole concept of representing England on a national level had been a dream for me. Growing up watching gymnastics, I wanted to perform at that level, but I didn’t think there’d ever be an opportunity for me to do it. When that opportunity came, it truly felt like a blessing. I competed on the 2013-14 and the 2014-15 teams. Those experiences were amazing, but they showed me that we as a nation still had a lot of building to do. For a number of reasons I missed the 2015-16 season, but seeing both All-Girl and Co-Ed medal inspired me to try out in the 2016-17 season and go for gold!
I genuinely did not think I’d make it past try outs. The quality of the other athletes was so high I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to impress the coaches after a bad start on my tumble passes. But I got my head down and went for it. My dream was to win gold and I wasn’t ready to give up on it. When I found out that I’d made the team I couldn’t believe it, but the hard work hadn’t even started. Committing to the team was huge for me- both financially and socially. I had to find a way to fund the trip, so I started to write cheer vocals for teams to subsidise costs for me and it’s just taken off! I feel like it’s given me a new purpose in the cheer industry that I just love- a niche market that is really starting to grow! I’ll speak more about this later but ultimately, it gave me the opportunity to make the plane for worlds!
In the days before I felt like the teams were looking strong and in my heart I just knew that we were all a part of the best Team England to date. I was so prepared that I was more excited than nervous. I’d visualised everything so much, that I just knew that we had a good chance of placing in the top 3. On the first day we performed I felt like the support from the crowd got us through it. We hit the routine and were overall really pleased, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch anyone else- it felt like the magnitude of the situation was starting to creep up on me. That evening we found we were in 2nd place and were going through to day two. On the second day we made a few changes but that didn’t throw us off our path at all, we were going to give it everything. What really helped was having Angela Green pray for us before we took the stage. It settled our nerves and brought us together; by the time our music started we were one.
Watching the playback afterwards was a little deflating- there were a few bobbles and that’s when the fear started to creep in. All we could do was wait. When they announced All-Girl Elite as World Champions I wasn’t surprised, but that didn’t stop me being so incredibly happy for them! Then it was time for our division. By the time they were announcing the top 10 I was already crying. When they announced the top three we were called last. My heart was racing. When we were called to the stage I couldn’t hold back my emotions any more, it felt like the pinnacle of ten years’ worth of work. When third place was announced I was like woah! I couldn’t believe we were considered to be among the top 2 teams in the world, and when our silver medal was confirmed I was so ecstatic. There were hugs and kisses as we raced to the podium. It was our moment, our five minutes, we had done it. We had done it for Tats!
Tell us more about your budding music/ rap/ vocal career.
When I left school, I was voted most likely to be on Top of the Pops; it’s how I became known as Mr Pops. Before I started cheerleading I was studying music production, so for me, music had an important part in my life anyway. It felt like a natural step when teams started asking me to produce cheer mixes for them. But as most of my experience was with hip hop, it took a lot of patience for me to understand how cheerleading music worked, and how to construct an effective piece.
As cheer music has changed the demand for vocals over music has increased. I practiced this a few times but never really took it seriously. One day I saw a post on Facebook, a producer was asking for vocal talent; I gave it a go and they seemed to really like my efforts. One problem, I had no studio quality, so everything I submitted got rejected. I wasn’t really taking it seriously so I let it drop. However, this year with Team England and having to fund the trip, I made the decision to invest in some equipment and give it a go. I started making loads of demos and sending them to producers. I had to let my pride and anxiety go till someone gave me a chance, using their feedback to improve future pieces and performance. As fate would have it a producer I follow named Kyle Blitch posted an independent track he was working on. I liked it so much I felt compelled to write some lyrics for it. I sent them to him and he replied saying he liked it and wanted to use it for the track. I could not believe it. Blitch is a cheer inspiration for me, and for him to recognise my work after being rejected a number of times gave me a sense of vindication; my first major breakthrough on the cheer music scene. This pushed me to work harder and I kept uploading my demos. Since that time people started to contact me and in the 2016-2017 season I was commissioned for 119 recordings- something I could never have envisioned when I started.
What is your favourite AEC memory?
I have a number of memories that I’m really fond of. The first competition always sticks with me, but if I had to choose one other, it would be competing at the 2009 Paris European Open event at Disney Land. As a team we went in incredibly unsure. It was a new competition for us; we didn’t really know what we were letting ourselves in for. The quality of cheerleading was really high, but we still managed to come out as overall winners.
What would you say to young people like you who have big dreams and aspirations for themselves?
"Trust your own instincts. If you believe it with your whole heart, and can see it within your own vision, it can become reality.”