Exclusive: Arjun Kapoor joins FC Pune City as co-owner; says he’s a ‘football fanatic’
Bollywood actor Arjun Kapoor, who has become the co-owner of the Pune-based football club, says he admires athletes for their “great discipline”.bollywood Updated: Oct 26, 2017 16:57 IST
Along names such as Abhishek Bachchan and Ranbir Kapoor, over the years, Arjun Kapoor has also been known as one of the biggest football aficionados from Bollywood. Now, the latter has taken his love for the ‘beautiful game’ a big step further as he becomes the co-owner of the football club, FC Pune City. Herein, the actor chats with HT exclusively about becoming the co-owner, the sport, his meeting with English footballer John Terry and more.
You are now the co-owner of a football team. How did that happen?
I have been a big football fan for the longest time now. After cricket, if there is a sport that I have fallen in love with – and that too since my college days – it is football. While growing up too, I have always followed football on television and lately, on the internet, so, you can call me a football fanatic (laughs). I was always intrigued when Indian Super League started in India a few years back. At that time, I realised that this league and football is here to stay in India and so, it is very exciting for me to be a part of a revolution, change and movement.
When celebrities get involved in such a big way, does it help increase the interest levels among fans?
Yes, that’s true but otherwise too, I feel things have changed a lot in the last two-three years as there is awareness. Sports, in general, have evolved in the last two-three years. So, kabaddi has become big, as there is a big behavioural change from how it used to be viewed earlier. I feel cities find connect with the team when a celebrity gets involved. I also want to connect with the people of Pune more than just the TV audiences. I want people of Pune to feel that I am a part of their culture, thinking and thought process and philosophy. For instance, Shah Rukh Khan – vis-à-vis his IPL cricket team, -- has managed to find an intricate connect with the people of Kolkata. If people’s energy gets channelled through one person, it will help in creating a mentality of support for a team for a longer time and not just one or two games.
Do you feel that more than just being a sport, a team game like football can teach a lot more things in general?
Of course, most sports are great teachers. Anybody who is a sportsman or an athlete has great discipline. Even if one has just grown up playing sports has a great way of conducting themselves. They also have a sense of professionalism coupled with a positive mindset. If you play a sport from a young age, those habits get inculcated. You can always tell the difference between a sportsperson from a normal guy. Moreover, the shelf life of a sportsman is so short that they have to give their 200% in terms of hard work and dedication. So, you become mentally strong.
Have you been a fan of any particular team or footballer?
I have followed Chelsea for years as it’s my favourite club. In fact, I attended their matches too last year when I was in London for shooting. While shooting, I used to have only one selfish request that if a football match was on and tickets were available, I wanted to go for it. In fact, Chelsea team had invited me to watch one of their matches. So, I had the pleasure of meeting all the players. It was a fan boy moment for me as I had put pictures on Instagram with all of them. I met John Terry who was my favourite footballer. My favourite number is 26 and his jersey number was also 26, so, he gave me a personal jersey that he took out from his kit bag. I am a big fan boy of Chelsea. I have been following them for the last 15 years. Even when I am working, I manage to take time out to check the scores if a football match is on and maybe take a 10 minute break and watch the match. That is the only time I get happy as I always want to know what is happening to Chelsea.
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Recently, you were seen at a football match between film celebrities and sportsmen. From the industry, who all do you think play best football?
Ranbir (Kapoor) plays very well and he is very passionate about the sport. Without fail, every Sunday, he goes for the practice regardless of whether others show up or not. He works out his schedule accordingly for that. He has only gotten better in the last four-five years. Dino Morea and Jim Sarbh play very well. Kartik Aaryan started a year-and-a-half back and he has improved a lot. I couldn’t play for almost a year because I was out of the country to shoot Mubarakan and Half Girlfriend. But if you keep playing and practising, you keep getting better. However, I did not have a chance to practice so; I was feeling really guilty about it. In fact, I have promised everyone that I am going to make sure that I take out time to play and make up for my absence in the past because I really want to be part of the team.
Do you find it saddening that unlike previous generations, a number of today’s kids don’t play outdoor sports?
It’s very saddening. Today, we have so many options of entertainment that a child – after his/her school – does not need to step out of the house. When we were young, we were almost forced to go out and play outdoors with others. We were asked to play a sport even if we were bad at it. Utna pressure bhi nahi hota tha, so the only intention was to play. I remember trying my hand at every sport. But I feel that even now, it happens only in big cities since people in the heartland [of India] are still very outdoor-oriented. Once the infrastructure starts getting better, hopefully, schools will support different sports.
In a city like Mumbai, the situation is even worse…
Unfortunately, in Mumbai, we don’t have enough places for kids to play outdoors. But I have seen that those who have passion for the sport also play sports like cricket and football on roads. We come across stories of South American footballers who used to play on the streets minus any infrastructure, and not even required equipment or shoes. Anyways, football is one of the cheapest games to play. I think once the passion is embedded into people’s lives, it will enhance the opportunities for kids to go out and play the sport.
In the past too, you have been associated with football in Pune. But what’s the big goal this time around?
Yes, Pune and I have had an association in the past when I was the face of the team and also attended a couple of matches. But now our aim is to have an international football star from India in the next 10 years. I would like to be – in my own small way -- be a part of something that showcases the Indian talent from a population of one billion people. I feel in the next ten years, if we find a guy who is about 18-19 and goes on to play internationally, it will change the way we see the sport. It will put us immediately on the world map. We have to produce at least one international quality footballer and I think this is the perfect platform. If not, it would be really unfortunate. Keeping in mind the growth of television and the league, the quality of football is also improving, which is great.
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How is your brand value going to be used when it comes to FC Pune City?
One of the luxuries of being the co-owner is that you get to give your 100 per cent. It is not a one-time thing. So I would like to be involved with everything: meeting the school kids who have got the scholarships; meeting the players and be there on the ground and engage with the fans to understand how we can make things better. I want to be a part of this movement that helps in bringing more Indian footballers to the fore. I want to be a part of it all but obviously it’s just my first step. I want to get embedded in such a way that I want to be a part of the running of the club. I have not joined just to click photos and be the face and go home. I want to be aware, I want to be involved and I want to connect with the city, because Pune is waiting to find that connect.
It seems as if you have a lot of personal affection for the city.
Yes, as this is the city that has the youngest crowd in the country. There are people who come there across the country to study, so there is a lot happening in Pune. It is an evolving city, and I want to make them believe [in the sport and their team] and make them come to the stadium [to watch the matches] more often. I think that is another part of watching the sport. The way the city reacts and its culture is very important for us to take Pune to the next level. The players have to feel that connect from the city to play for them. I don’t want a one or two year-connect as I want it to be a longer one. I want to sit down with the owners and make plans with them, which we have already started doing. Hopefully, everyone will see it come to life in the next eight months.
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