DARLINGTON Football Club has made its biggest signing of all time by persuading pop legend Sir Elton John to play on its pitch next summer.

The Balfour Webnet Darlington Arena event on July 5 is expected to attract a sell-out audience of 18,000 to 20,000.

The signing of 60-year-old Sir Elton marks a new chapter in the arena's chequered history with regard to entertainment events.

Originally, the club agreed to a concert ban before persuading Darlington Borough Council to reverse that decision last year.

But a debut event planned in May, involving pop act Girls Aloud, was aborted along with hopes of attracting names such as Primal Scream and classical singer Katherine Jenkins.

Darlington FC chief executive Jon Sotnick called Sir Elton's concert at the Neasham Road stadium "a massive coup" for the club, the town and the whole of Tees Valley.

And the multi-millionaire pop star's representatives said the club's suggestion fitted ideally with football fanatic and Watford FC life president Sir Elton's plan of staging concerts where he had never performed before.

Previously, his open-air events have graced Raby Castle, near Staindrop, County Durham, in 2000, and Durham County Cricket Club's Riverside venue last year.

Mr Sotnick, said last night: "We promised that we would endeavour to deliver a big name for the first concert at the Balfour Webnet Darlington Arena - and they don't come much bigger than Elton John.

"Our vision to fully exploit the fantastic facilities at the Darlington Arena as a concert venue is coming to fruition.

"The people of Darlington have a first-class venue on their doorsteps, and I am certain people will travel from near and far to see Elton John."

Neasham Road resident Jan Mazurk last night questioned the venue's ability to handle the traffic associated with such a large crowd.

She pointed out that when almost 8,000 attended Darlington's home game against Leeds United last month, police were advising drivers to park on the A66 because the ground's car park was unable to cope.

She said: "The last time they had a very big attendance, cars were still in the car park two hours after the end. Neasham Road isn't big enough to cope with that sort of attendance."

A spokesman for Sir Elton, who is in Las Vegas performing at Caesar's Palace, said: "A decision about the size of the audience will depend on the stage that Sir Elton uses with his band.

"He came up with the idea of going on tour to unusual venues, and being a football fan he does like the feel of playing in a football stadium."

■ Tickets priced £40 to £60, go onsale at 9am on Monday. Call Ticketmaster on 0844-847-1731 or online www.ticketmaster.co.uk.

Disabled customers are advised to book early on 0844-847-1655.

For hospitality packages, call 01325-387000.