The Day Fans Looked Up and Saw a UFO

A 1954 soccer match is interrupted by a strange sighting in the sky


As a stadium manager, I’m painfully aware of all sorts of odd happenings that can delay a game.

I thought I had seen it all: fans running onto the field, power outages, swarming bees, stray cats, and the list of oddities goes on.

However, there was one delay that would have shocked even an old-stadium warhorse like me.

It happened some 70 years ago at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, a 47,000-seater outside Florence, Italy that was, and still is, home to the Fiorentina football (soccer) club.

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Opened in 1931, the concrete structure was the site of World Cup matches in 1934 and 1990, and concerts by the likes of David Bowie, Madonna, and Bruce Springsteen.

On New Year’s Day in 1945, the historic venue also hosted the ‘Spaghetti Bowl’, a morale-boosting gridiron game between the American 5th Army and the 12th Air Force during their drive against Nazi Germany.

But on October 27, 1954, in front of 10,000 spectators, the home team were playing a friendly against local rivals, Pistoiese, when an inexplicable formation suddenly appeared high above the field.

Performing acrobatics in the clouds, an egg-shaped object drew everyone’s attention for 15 minutes before it vanished as mysteriously as it arrived.

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Standing on the pitch and gazing at the Tuscan sky, the players were equally frozen with curiosity as the referee suspended play.

Adding to the enigma was a silvery filament substance that fell from the air and covered the stadium before disintegrating, like stringy snowflakes on a warm day.

A UFO? Alien visitors? Or, just a freak of nature? Everyone offered a lively theory, but nobody had a definitive answer.

“I remember everything from A to Z,” recalls Ardico Magnini in an interview with BBC on the 60th anniversary of the sighting.

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Magnini was a defensive player with Fiorentina who also represented Italy at the 1954 World Cup.

“It was something that looked like an egg that was moving slowly, slowly, slowly…We were astonished, we had never seen anything like it before…We were absolutely shocked."

Another player, Romolo Tuci, added his interpretation of the event.

"In those years everybody was talking about aliens, everybody was talking UFOs, and we had the experience, we saw them, we saw them directly, for real."

The aerial phenomenon wasn’t confined to the stadium and was observed around Florence with shiny cotton balls floating in the wind.

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Taken to a laboratory and analyzed, the cryptic material was found to contain elements of boron, silicon, calcium, and magnesium.

Since boron and silicon aren’t biological compounds, tales of possible space visitors served to fuel more chatter and excitement around the story.


But James McGaha, a U.S. Air Force pilot-turned astronomer, provided an earthly explanation.

“The whole spectacle was nothing more than migrating spiders…young spiders spinning webs…they use these webs as sails, and they link together, and you get a big glob of this stuff in the sky and the spiders ride on this to move between locations.”

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He continued, “These things have been recorded at 14,000 feet above the ground. So, when the sunlight glistens off this, you get all kinds of visual effects.”

That position was supported by the fact that Fall is the migratory season for these spindly creatures.

Still, the inter-galactic faithful continued to argue that spider silk is protein-based and those biological chemicals weren’t identified in the lab. (Noteworthy, the material was destroyed during the analysis test).

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To lifelong Fiorentina fans like Gigi Boni who spent decades reliving the memories of that day, there was no question in his mind.

“I think they were extra-terrestrial. That's what I believe, and there's no other explanation I can give myself," he commented to BBC.

A year later, the episode would evoke even more colorful talk and speculation when Fiorentina defeated the mighty AC Milan to win the country’s top-tier championship (Serie A) for the first time in its history.

For the club’s impassioned and dreamy supporters, there was only one plausible answer: space visitors had clearly come for a glimpse of one of the best soccer teams on the planet.

Matthew Kastel is the Stadium Manager of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and an Adjunct Professor at Mount St. Mary’s University.



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