Chelsea will end a very long wait for a league visit to one of English football’s most venerable venues when we take on Nottingham Forest at the City Ground today.
When the Blues last played at the East Midlands ground just before the turn of the millennium, no one could have imagined that it would be more than two decades before we made our next trip there. After all, Forest were a regular presence in the top flight at that time, having spent 20 of the previous 22 campaigns in the highest tier, and winning a league title, four League Cups and two European Cups along the way.
But after bouncing back from relegation in 1997 by topping the First Division and securing promotion at the first attempt, the Reds struggled in 1998/99 and were bottom of the Premier League table when they welcomed us to their home on 22 February.
Unfortunately for Forest fans, it proved to be another miserable day for their side as Mikael Forssell put us ahead in the sixth minute after getting on the end of a massive clearance kick by Ed de Goey to net his first Premier League goal before Bjarne Goldbaek took advantage of slack marking by the hosts to fire two more past ex-Chelsea goalkeeper Dave Beasant in a straightforward 3-1 victory.
It was just our second victory in five away matches against Forest in the Premier League but was symptomatic of their season as they dropped back to the second tier after finishing in last place, 11 points adrift of safety, and began their long exile from the top flight.
When Chelsea visit Forest this weekend, the span of 23 years and 11 months will be the longest gap between visits to a Premier League ground for Chelsea, surpassing the 17 years and four months which passed between trips to Elland Road.
Leeds United had been in the top flight since 1990 and maintained a fierce rivalry against the Blues during the formative years of the Premier League. However, a major financial crisis at the club in 2002 led to the sale of their best players as they quickly went from title contenders to relegation candidates.
Chelsea were top of the table and Leeds were at the bottom when we travelled to Elland Road on 6 December 2003 but the Yorkshire side threatened a surprise when Jermaine Pennant put them ahead after 18 minutes. Damien Duff restored parity midway through the second half but the Whites held out for a 1-1 draw although they ultimately lost their battle against relegation and bid adieu to the Premier League after going down 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on the final day of the season.
They didn’t return to the top flight until the 20/21 season and finished in mid-table after a generally solid campaign which included a 0-0 home draw against the Blues in March 2021.
While the gaps between our Premier League trips to Bramall Lane have not been as long as those separating our visits to the City Ground and Elland Road, there have been two long sequences between away league matches against Sheffield United in the Premier League era.
After losing 1-0 to the Blades in November 1993, we didn’t visit them again for nearly 13 years until October 2006 when goals by Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack secured a 2-0 win.
They were relegated again that season and didn’t return to the Premier League for another 13 years. By then, Lampard had become Chelsea’s head coach but he didn’t enjoy our trip to an empty Bramall Lane after the Covid lockdown in July 2020 as the Blades stunned his side 3-0.
Eleven years separated our visits to Leicester City’s new ground which known as the Walkers Stadium when we trounced them 4-0 in January 2004 and the King Power Stadium when we beat them 3-1 in late April 2015 to move within a victory of securing the Premier League title.
While 15 years separated our away league derbies against Queens Park Rangers in January 1996 and October 2011, we did play league games on their home ground at Loftus Road on a couple of occasions during that spell when QPR shared the ground with another west London side, Fulham.
With Craven Cottage undergoing extensive renovations, the Cottagers briefly decamped to QPR’s home ground where they drew 0-0 in September 2002 and lost 1-0 to a magnificent Hernan Crepso header in December 2003.