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.
Sir Elton's signature is being hailed as a massive coup by the operators of the new £32m
stadium and should allow the Stadium Management Company (SMC) to banish memories of the ill-fated concerts by Bryan Adams and Ronan Keating this July which failed to sell many tickets.
Stadium bosses predict that tickets for the show will be snapped up quickly for the event when they go on sale on Monday and believe the show will help to raise the profile of the facility as a credible venue for hosting outdoor concerts.
Sir Elton, who was knighted in 1998 has had seven UK number one singles and still holds the record for the biggest selling single of all time with his re-worded 1997 tribute to Princess Diana `Candle in the Wind'.
His Keepmoat show is believed to be his only musical appearance in Yorkshire next year.
Jeremy Milnes, commercial director of the Keepmoat Stadium said: "This is a massive coup for the stadium and absolutely fantastic news for not only Doncaster but the whole region.
"Sir Elton is quite simply one of the biggest stars in the world and I'm sure that it will be an outstanding night.
"We are proud of the part the stadium is playing in raising Doncaster's profile on the national stage and this concert should boost our standing even higher.
I'm sure all the tickets will be snapped-up quickly and that on the 12th of July we will be welcoming people from all over the country, and even beyond, to this fantastic facility."
Gavin Baldwin, interim chief executive of the Keepmoat Stadium, said: "This will be one of the biggest music events ever to be staged in Doncaster and will be a great boost to the town, firmly placing the Keepmoat Stadium on promoter's radars in the UK for outdoor concerts."
Tickets for the event, to be held on Saturday July 12, go on sale on Monday at 9am priced at £60.00 and £40.00 while a limited number of premium tickets will also be available.
Tickets can be booked on a 24 hour hotline on 0844 847 1731 or at www.ticketmaster.co.uk.