is a city of great institutions. From the headquarters of
the Indian Army's Southern Command, to numerous colleges and
campuses of India's software companies and BPO's and the modern
expressway that connects it to Mumbai, Pune is at the forefront
of today's modern India.
And now, Pune has one more institution that it can look forward
to, Pune Football Club. The newly formed football club by
the Ashok Piramal Group, plans to revolutionlise the way football
is played, watched and followed. The signing of Stewart Hall
as coach and Cyd Gray from Trinidad & Tobago's World Cup
squad are confirmation of their intent.
IndianFootball.Com's Harmit Singh Kamboe was able to catch
up with Harsh Piramal, a Director with the Ashok Piramal Group,
the founders of Pune FC for a detailed interview. Enjoy!
First of congratulations and best wishes for your new club!
We hope it gives us Indian football fans everything we have
been starved for and more. Please tell us about the Ashok
Piramal Group, who founded it, when was it founded, the different
businesses it operates in and how me as a consumer may be
aware of it or have come into contact with your company?
Thanks a lot. The entire board of directors is very excited
about the launch of Pune Football Club, and want to make the
club an integral part of the social fabric of Pune and its
Our business was founded by my great-grandfather, Seth Piramal
Chaturbhhuj, in 1934 when he took over the Morarjee Goculdas
Mills. Today, the Ashok Piramal Group operates in three business
verticals: textiles and apparel, real estate, and auto components.
You might have come into contact with our products several
times without being aware of it. Morarjee Textiles supplies
fabric to and manufactures shirts for several top Indian brands
including Zodiac, Louis Phillipe, Allen Solly, Levi's and
the like. In our real estate business Peninsula Land, you
may have bought a home in one of our developments under the
brand name 'Ashok', or had a meeting in an office in one of
our corporate parks under the brand name 'Peninsula'. The
auto parts from our company PMP Components are embedded in
Maruti, Mahindra and Tata vehicles. Until recently, we used
to own Piramyd Retail, which had several department stores
and supermarkets including in Pune, but that business has
Please tell us about how and why the Piramal Group had a football
team quite some years ago? What was the motivation for that
and the background to involvement in football at that time
and how the team came to ceased to exist?
We actually ran a pretty good football team in the 1970s and
early 80s in Morarjee Mills, as Morarjee Textiles was known
then. However, the gradual shifting out of the textiles industry
from Mumbai meant that these ancillary activities also had
Why is the Piramal Group interested in football today? Do
you believe that Indian corporates are now awakening to sports
other than Cricket? Do you see investing in football of today
as a sound financial investment?
Well, me and my brothers, Rajeev and Nandan, have been fanatical
football, and particularly Liverpool, fans for over 20 years
now. Just to give you an example, we used to religiously listen
to the BBC World Service news every Saturday night for the
latest results, and we subscribed to a membership of the British
Council in Mumbai only in order to read the football reports
in the British papers!
Remember, this was before the days of the Internet or satellite
TV. We have always dreamt of owning a football club and promoting
the sport. When the opportunity to start a club at the highest
level in our country came up, it was the realisation of our
dream and an opportunity that could not be missed. So we have
got together with some like-minded friends - Rohan Gavaskar,
Kunal Chandra, Harsh Mehta and Pankaj Kanodia - and launched
Pune Football Club. Of course, we have had the full backing
of my mother Mrs. Urvi Piramal, who is the Chairman of the
group and the club.
I strongly believe that football will be the next big sport
in India. I don't think that it will match cricket for some
time, but it will be a huge sport in 10 years. I do think
that some corporates are waking up to this fact, but except
cricket of course, the evolution of any sport into a large
commercial industry is still in its infancy today.
Investing in a football club is not a sound financial investment!
But then, this venture is first and foremost about promoting
football, not about a return on investment.
Your club has been named Pune Football Club. Any specific
reason for naming your club simply Pune FC?
Absolutely. The reason is that we don't want the club to be
a corporate brand-building venture. We want it to be a club
of the people. We want the club to give every football loving
citizen in Pune and its surrounding cities an outlet to enjoy
and support the game. Most of the biggest clubs in the world,
be it Liverpool, Barcelona or Milan, are simply named after
the city they were born in and today are an integral symbol
of the city's identity and heritage. We want the same for
Pune Football Club. In fact, even the club's logo has been
designed keeping this in mind. It features a "ghorpad",
or monitor lizard, which was used by Chhatrapati Shivaji to
scale cliffs, conquer forts and defeat enemies. Similarly,
we hope that the logo will inspire both the players and the
team's fans to take Pune Football Club to the top of Indian
and Asian football.
Please tell us why Pune was chosen as a base for the team.
So far Pune isn't known as a football city in India nor even
in Maharashtra, but what can Pune expect in return in terms
of football outreach programs?
Pune is on its way to football fame in India, just like Kolkata
or Goa. Do you know that there are over 100 clubs registered
with the Pune District Football Association? Our research
showed that football is the number 1 sport for young people
in Pune. There are tournaments played in and around Pune which
attract hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of fans. Moreover,
the area's economy has been growing rapidly in recent years
thanks to investment by BPOs, IT, auto components and engineering
companies. This growth has meant the influx of young educated
professionals to Pune, which has resulted in a very favourable
demographic in the city. These factors provide a tremendous
launch pad for Pune Football Club.
We already have under-15 and under-19 teams at the club, which
are open to any kid with the talent and aptitude for the sport.
I was amazed that a thousand kids turned up for our initial
trials; this shows the tremendous enthusiasm for the game
in Pune. We will be holding trials periodically to encourage
more kids to play the game. However, this is just the beginning
and there will be many more community outreach activities
as the club progresses.
Little is known about football infrastructure in Pune. Do
you have a stadium readily available for your new club?
Football infrastructure in Pune is limited. We are currently
using existing grounds for training and playing matches. However
we hope to have our own infrastructure up and running in the
Please tell us about the selection of the coach and other
key training staff? What factors were taken into consideration
when making these choices?
First and foremost, we wanted thoroughly professional staff
to be running the club. Secondly, we wanted people with demonstrated
capabilities in their areas of expertise, so that they will
be able to bring a cutting-edge to the team. So we have selected
the coaching team accordingly.
Stewart Hall, who is our head coach, is a UEFA Pro Coaching
Licence holder (which is the top coaching licence in the world)
and former director of the Youth Academy at Birmingham FC,
which is a Premier League club. He was also a consultant with
the English FA. Our general manager is B. Ashok Kumar, who
was manager of the Indian Bank football team when it won the
Tamil Nadu State League for seven consecutive years.
With the first player transfer window over, how do you plan
to build a competitive squad? Will you follow the established
practice of picking star players during the transfer window
or will you sign some up and coming players and develop them
over a couple of season?
Given that we received the proposal to form a club in late
July, the time we actually got to put the team in place was
very limited. Nevertheless, we have assembled a young, talented
and highly motivated squad, which we feel will be competitive
from the word go. Over the years, we will put a lot of stress
on developing players from our junior teams and absorb those
who make the cut into the senior team. In addition to that,
we will sign established names so as to have a good mix of
players and to continuously improve the level of the squad.
What kind of physical infrastructure is planned for the team?
Where will they train, will you build a gym or get them memberships
to an existing gym, will the team members live in a closed
community close to the training ground or will they live where
they can find accommodation as individuals?
We have already put some infrastructure in place for the team.
We have a tie up with Solaris Gym, who have been very proactive
and enthusiastic in offering their facilities for our players'
weight training and gym regime. Besides, the Pune Police and
the Bombay Sappers have also been very supportive in offering
their training grounds for our training sessions and practice
matches. As I mentioned earlier, we will be developing our
own stadium and training facilities as soon as possible.
As far as the players go, we have made accommodation arrangments
together for the team, so that the players live under one
roof and bond as a team. Even our coach, general manager and
most of the coaching staff live nearby. We believe in treating
our players like professionals and taking care of them so
that they are free to perform where it matters - on the pitch.
What will your club do to translate the high viewership of
European League games on television to actual attendance for
your games? Is there anything specific planned to make the
games more attractive for women and an option as a family
European League games on television can only generate initial
interest in the game. It is completely up to the clubs, along
with the All India Football Federation, to translate this
interest into attendance at Indian club games. On our part,
we will use a variety of media to market matches being played
by Pune FC at a high decibel level in Pune and surrounding
It is also one of our priorities to get families interested
in the game. For this, we need to create a safe and clean
environment where the entire family can enjoy the game. Initially,
we aim to create this safe and clean environment at whichever
ground we play our matches at, along with food and beverage
amenities, clean toilets and organised seating. When we build
our own facilities, we aim to take the amenities offered to
levels never before seen in India. This is the only sustainable
path to generating genuine support and interest for the game.
As far as women go, if the family is attracted to football
as spending an evening out together and the environment is
clean, safe and comfortable, then from whatever I have observed
in Europe I'm confident that women will be more than happy
to come along and even support the game.
What are some of the realistic expectations that you have
set for the club in terms of footballing success both near
term and long term?
For the first season, we have only one aim - promotion to
I-League 1. I think that this is very realistic given that
we have a talented young team and excellent coaching staff.
In the next 4-5 years, we want to be established as one of
the top 2 or 3 Indian clubs. Our long term goal, in the next
7-8 years, is to be competing strongly in the tier of Asian
football where Indian clubs compete.
What are the top five things (or more) that will make a dramatic
impact in quality of football in India.
In my view, the first thing that our country needs is a well
dispersed youth football infrastructure and practices - this
means all top clubs developing their youth teams seriously,
and new footballing academies being established. The better
the infrastructure is, the more the kids who will be attracted
to play the game. This in turn will produce more players and
the overall quality of talent will go up.
Secondly, we need more human talent trained at the highest
level to coach our players. All our coaches should be fully
aware of the latest trends in coaching techniques, playing
strategy, physical development, dietary requirements and the
like. We need to invite more top-level foreign coaches to
hold clinics in India, and make it mandatory for all club
coaches to attend these clinics. If we keep up with international
trends and have a robust youth development system, I do believe
that the quality of football in India can improve.
But I have one caution here - if you're looking for a dramatic
impact in the quality of football in India in the next 3 or
even 5 years, it's not going to happen. Improving the quality
of football depends on having quality players. Now developing
players starts from the time they are 9 or 10 years old and
lasts till they turn 17 or 18, so the process is a long one.
Only through a sustained effort over 7-8 years will we see
a dramatic improvement in the quality of football.
Thirdly, we need basic football infrastructure - stadiums,
well organised clubs, academies. The current state of our
stadia is light years away from international standards.
Lastly, we need to make football a viable way to earn a good
living so that more kids are attracted to it. Look at the
number of kids Cricket attracts. Making football viable can
only be done by having an organised football league structure
and by sharing TV revenues with clubs. All these factors feed
into each other and we need to work on all these fronts.
The encouraging news is that the AIFF is taking several steps
to organise the game better and laying down conditions on
clubs, like making it mandatory for them to put up their own
stadia and to have youth teams.
What do you think about IndianFootball.Com and its work?
I am a regular visitor to your website. News on Indian football
is diffuse and scarce, and I have not seen a more comprehensive
website dedicated to it. It definitely is the best single
source of information related to Indian football.
Many, many thanks for all your work for the betterment of
Indian football and for the time taken to give us this interview!