Crashing a Ball

A May Ball crasher offers his perspective on his dangerous pursuit.

Cambridge crashing emma june event jesus may ball may balls May Week Mr Hudson security Sub Focus survivors' photo

A game is being played across Cambridge. The aim depends on the perspective: for those organising the many May Balls and June Events, the objective is to create a system that keeps the crashers out. For the rest, the objective is to beat the system. There are no rules. It is a game of cat and mouse that has been played for as long as anyone can remember. And, as with all good games, the fun is in the playing; the end result of standing there at the Survivors' Photo forms just a small part of the enjoyment attached to crashing a ball.

From organizing a large event with professional guards, walkie-talkies, stewards, wristbands and fencing to using a set of DJ headphones to cheat the system at a recent May Ball, playing both sides of the game has been fun. It’s given me insights into the different aspects of this game. 

I broke into Jesus May Ball this week and proceeded to steal wristbands. By the end of the night I had the much-cherished ‘Access All Areas’ pass in addition to a Performer’s wristband and a Worker’s one. I also stole a Guest wristband, but just for keepsakes. I spent part of the evening chilling backstage with Sub Focus and Mr Hudson. I wouldn’t queue for drinks at bars; instead I went behind the bar and poured my own concoctions. 

The night before Jesus I was already performing at Emma’s June Event, so I set myself the challenge of breaking a friend in. Within twenty minutes, his name was on the VIP guest list and he arrived at the Porter’s Lodge and was ushered inside by the very helpful Committee (who actually called him to coordinate his reception). He didn’t even have to queue. I now have a free ticket to next year’s King’s Affair because I’ll be offering them advice on their security.

It’s impossible to count the number of ways to break into a ball, but over the years I’ve seen and used some pretty imaginative ones. ‘Breaking in’ is a misnomer – most end up cheating the system by finding a flaw, and there almost always is one. Breaking in attempts usually end up falling into one of two general categories:

Firstly, there’s what I call the ‘security breach.’ This is the force-majeure approach, involving high levels of climbing and running. It requires athleticism and/or large amounts of luck. Knowledge of the layout and grounds of the College is essential. Once you’ve found a gap in the security and made your move, remember you’ve made your decision and you have to give it your all if you’re to succeed.

Then, there’s ‘the delivery boy.’ Running and climbing is too crass for me. I prefer using persuasion or subtlety to get in. The most common flaw is a lack of communication between the organisers. A Ball is a stressful event, and if you want to break into one, use this to your advantage. Time is always on your side. You have all night to get in; the organisers are working on a strict schedule.

Some complain about the ethics of breaking into a ball. As a crasher, I see it as a game, one that’s both fun and rewarding. Those who complain that if everyone tried crashing a Ball we wouldn’t have Balls of the same scale are missing the point. Keep your logic; while the ‘free-rider’ model makes theoretical sense, it doesn’t apply to reality. Whenever there are great parties there will be people who will try and crash. The two are inseparable, and to pretend like they aren’t is foolish. People who organise parties know this, and they work within these confines to create a system that attempts to keep crashers out. 

At the end of the day, even if you don’t get in, the process can be just as great. You’re practically guaranteed a story to remember. After all, it’s the stories of adventure, excitement and fun that will make your May Week.