The Stadio Artemio Franchi has played host to a series of memorable moments in its 89-year history, including a World Cup quarter-final in 1934, the Spaghetti Bowl during World War Two, and a David Bowie concert in the late-80s, but nothing will rival the mysterious events which took place on 27 October 1954.
Halloween was still four days away when one of the most supernatural episodes in Tuscan history occurred in front of 10,000 people watching Fiorentina play rivals Pistoiese in a friendly. The home side were comfortably ahead 6-2 early in the second half when a disturbance in the sky commanded the attention of everyone in attendance.
The players disregarded their duties on the field to peer up at the commotion in the clouds. The spectators initially let out a roar before falling as silent as experienced local hunters stalking cinghiale in the rolling hills of nearby Maremma. The referee halted the match as the action quickly flowed from the pitch to the Tuscan sky.
An unidentified flying object had appeared and the thousands in attendance stood frozen in astonishment, their eyes fixated on the disc-shaped object performing acrobatics in the clouds above them. The extraterrestrial performance lasted almost 15 minutes and the egg-shaped spacecraft zoomed off just as fast as it had appeared, but not before emitting silver flakes of a stringy-type substance, which covered the landscape, including the trees.
“Everyone was looking up and there was some glitter coming down from the sky,” Fiorentina defender Ardico Magnini, who made 20 appearances for the national team, told reporters. “We were astonished we had never seen anything like that before and we were absolutely shocked.”
There were a handful of other sightings in the region in the days leading up to the game, but that didn’t dissuade some experts from thinking those in attendance might have had too much Chianti Classico that afternoon. “The whole UFO phenomenon is nothing but myth, magic and superstition wrapped up in this idea that somehow aliens are either coming to save us or destroy us,” astronomer James McGaha told the BBC. “When I first looked at this case I originally thought it was a fireball … but it became apparent that this was actually caused by young spiders spinning very thin webs.”
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It’s not unusual to hear different versions of the same event in calcio. Inter fans are convinced their team deserved a penalty after Ronaldo was mugged by Mark Iuliano during a highly contentious clash in 1998, while Juventus supporters claim there was no foul. Sulley Muntari’s disallowed goal in 2012 clearly crossed the line according to AC Milan fans and most certainly didn’t if Juventus supporters are to be believed, while there are still heated arguments whether Maurizio Turone’s goal was incorrectly disallowed in a late-season top of the table clash between the Bianconeri and Roma in 1981.
There are always two sides to a story, but those in attendance swear on their grave that this wasn’t mass hysteria or migrating spiders; they are convinced they were visitors from outer space. “I know about the migrating spiders hypothesis and it’s pure nonsense,” said Roberto Pinotti, who is the president of the Italian UFO Center. “It’s an old and stupid story.”
The visitors chose the ideal club to get a sneak peek of as Fulvio Bernardini’s talented side would go on to win their first Scudetto the next season by 12 points in the standings. Did the calcio-loving aliens foreshadow what was to come? Was this extraterrestrial intelligence at its finest?
They could have visited a number of teams, but settled on La Viola, who hadn’t won a Scudetto up to that point. Coincidence? Maybe – but what we do know for sure is that Fiorentina set a new Seri sA record by going 33 games without a loss en route to lifting their first championship.
Ziggy playing guitar on the aptly named Glass Spider Tour and Giuseppe Meazza, who would later have a stadium named after him, scoring the winning goal in the 1934 quarter-final replay against Spain are just a few of the icons who helped shape the Artemio Franchi experience. The American football game between the 12th Air Force Brigade and the 5th Army on New Years Day in 1945 cemented the stadium’s international status, at least across the Atlantic.
Myth and legend certainly add to the nostalgia, but controversies and conspiracies are the staples that consistently feed calcio fans. There are few things that Italians love to debate more. The standings with officiating errors added to the points total to produce the ‘real’ Serie A table every season in the Italian dailies is just one of the prime examples.
The events of that day will be hotly debated, with opinions and theories coming from both sides of the coin, but the story of whatever was hovering in the autumn sky should be cherished and revered because, just like a fine super Tuscan wine, the longer it ages the better it gets.
By Max De Luca @Massimo_DeLuca1