27th October 1954, was a normal march day for the mighty Fiorentina Club which was playing against rivals, Pistoiese. Ten thousand fans were packed in the Artemi Franchi stadium watching the game when suddenly, minutes after halftime, the stadium fell silent. The crowd went up in a roar after the initial shock but no one was watching the game anymore. Even the players stopped playing and the game rolled to a standstill. Everyone looked up at the sky.
The referee match report recorded that the game was suspended because spectators were watching something in the sky. Gigi Boni, a Fiorentina fan was among the crowd; “I remember clearly seeing this incredible sight,” he says. “They were moving very fast and then they just stopped. It all lasted a couple of minutes. I would like to describe them as being like Cuban cigars. They just reminded me of Cuban cigars, in the way they looked.”
His description however differs from that of Magnini. Boni spent years reliving that moment in his mind. “I think they were extra-terrestrial. That’s what I believe, and there’s no other explanation I can give myself.”
Ramolo Tuci, was also a player, and agrees; “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.”
It’s hard to simply interpret this incident at the stadium as just mass hysteria since there were many more sightings of UFOs in many of the towns in Tuscanny on that day and several days after. Some witnesses even claim they saw a white light coming from Prato, north of Florence.
Robert Pinotti, the president of Italy’s National UFO Centre, is another man delighted at the chance to speak of that day. His home in Florence is stuffed with full alien memorabilia, framed newspaper articles, Old Italian B-movie posters and some black and white photos of blurry flying saucers. He has also written books about UFOs.
“The players and the public were stunned seeing these objects above the stadium. At the time, the newspapers spoke of aliens from Mars. Of course now we know that is not so – but we may conclude that it was an intelligent phenomenon, a technological phenomenon and a phenomenon that cannot be linked with anything we know on Earth,” Pinotti says.
Pinotti was a 10 year old boy at the time when this phenomenon occurred. He, like Magnini, also saw the white material Magnini describes as silver glitter. “It is a fact that at the same time the UFOs were seen over Florence there was a strange, sticky substance falling from above. In English we call this ‘angel hair”. The only problem is after a short period of time it disintegrates.
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“I remember, in broad daylight, seeing the roofs of the houses in Florence covered in this white substance for one hour and, like snow, it just evaporated. No-one knows what this strange substance has to do with UFOs.”
Most witnesses describe the white substance as similar to cobwebs or cotton. The substance was not easy to collect since it disintegrated on contact. The late Giorgio Batini, of the La Nazione newspaper was however determined to find out what it was. After getting several calls about the substance, he collected some and took “the shinning balls” as he described them, to the Institute of chemical analysis at University of Florence. Several others had taken the samples and this was subjected to a spectrographic analysis by the lab, led by respected scientist, Prof Giovanni Canneri. The substance contained boron, silicon, magnesium and calcium elements and was not radioactive. This however did not provide any conclusive answers and unfortunately, the material got destroyed in the process.
Could this have been an UFO? US Air Force pilot turned astronomer, James McGaha, completely rejects the idea. According to him, the whole “angel hair” was nothing but migrating spiders. “You know the whole UFO phenomenon is nothing but myth, magic and superstition, wrapped up in this idea that somehow aliens are coming here either to save us or destroy us,” he says. “When I looked at this case originally I thought perhaps it was a fireball, a very bright meteor breaking up in the atmosphere. They can be cigar-shaped with pieces breaking off. But it became fairly apparent that this was actually caused by young spiders spinning webs, very, very thin webs.
“The spiders 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. They just fly on the wind and 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. As some of this stuff breaks off and falls to the ground, this all seems magical of course but I’m fairly confident that’s what happened that day.”
His theory could be right since September and October are migrating seasons for the spiders in the northern hemisphere. The migrations still make headlines today but this hasn’t convinced anyone especially Pinotti, “Of course I know about the migrating spiders hypothesis – it’s pure nonsense. It’s an old story and also a stupid story.”
The chemical analysis of the sample disputes this theory too since spider silk is a protein that contains calcium, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen and these were not the elements reported from the sample at the lab. 60 years later and the cause of the incident has yet to be determined. Science Writer Philip Ball says he wouldn’t trust any reports of a strange event like this unless he saw the data. He however agrees that the elements of the “angel hair” do not tally with the spider theory. “Magnesium and calcium are fairly common elements in living bodies, boron and silicon much less so – but if these were the main elements that the white fluff contained, it doesn’t sound to me as though they’d come from spiders,” he says.
The phenomenon is still a mystery and no matter what the scientist say, those who saw the flying objects are convinced they saw something extraordinary. Ramolo Tuci feels lucky to have seen them and his eyes danced as he narrates the events of that day. “I was spell-bound and I was also so, so happy.”
The mystery of the Fiorentina UFOs was featured on World Football, on BBC World Service and you can listen to it here: UFO: Unidentified Football Object