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Joe Jones
It’s hard work being a Notts County fan. This isn’t just an opinion – a poll back in 2007 officially crowned the Magpies as the most stressful club to support in the Football League. Financial troubles, relegation battles, backroom changes – and this is just the last few years.
Thank goodness, then, for the calming influence of Colin Slater. The Notts County correspondent for BBC Radio Nottingham has commentated on Magpies games for the past half-century, his dulcet tones interwoven within the very fabric of the club.
What few people know, however, is that The Voice of Notts County could have so easily become The Voice of Bradford City. Colin was born and raised in Shipley, West Yorkshire, and the Bantams were the first football club he followed.
“I was first taken to football aged nine by my dad and I can remember the game against Barnsley at Valley Parade,” he says, sipping a mug of coffee on a warm spring’s day in West Bridgford’s Café Nero.
The young Colin knew from an early age that he wanted to be a journalist, recalling a civic occasion in Shipley’s town square where he noticed the local press reporting on the event from a vantage point.
He proclaims with pride: “That set me thinking that, if journalists get such a good view, that’s what I want to do because that’s where I want to be!”
Colin carried this ambition with him throughout his formative years, getting a job at the Shipley Guardian after finishing his secondary education at Belle Vue Grammar School – which also taught literary genius John Boynton “JB” Priestley – and, within a few years, becoming the newspaper’s editor.
So, how did he find himself in Nottingham, a city with which he had no prior connection? The answer is as honest as it is pragmatic. “I stayed at the Shipley Guardian for nine years, which was perhaps too long. I wanted a change, and the best offer I got was in Nottingham.”
His role at the now-defunct Nottingham Evening News was twofold – he would be the newspaper’s local affairs correspondent as well as being responsible for Notts County coverage. But his lack of familiarity with the Magpies led to him needing a crash course prior to starting work.
“I had just three weeks between moving to Nottingham and getting to know Notts County’s players, officials, and directors before covering my first game!”
After cutting his teeth for nine years covering the Magpies in print format, Colin moved to BBC Radio Nottingham to provide live audio commentary for his newly adopted team, and the rest, as they say, is history.
One of the most notable things about Colin’s presence on the radio is just how well spoken he is. The word “gentlemanly” springs to mind. Bafflingly, some people have accused him of being “posh” and “privileged” – and this accusation angers him no end, especially because it brings back tragic memories.
Colin explains: “I started my working life on 30 shillings a week – £1.50 in today’s currency. So I get a bit riled when anyone thinks I must have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I wasn’t, because my dad, who was a great hero figure to me, died when I was 14, so I know what it’s like to lose my father at a young age and start work fresh out of school for little money. Hardly a gilded sort of life, was it?”
The veteran broadcaster also opens up about Jimmy Sirrell, undoubtedly the greatest Magpies manager of all time, and reminisces about an encounter he had with him following their 2-0 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in May 1981 – a result which saw Notts promoted to the old First Division.
“I went into the players’ dressing room to have a glass of champagne, and Jack Dunnett, the chairman, came in and invited me up to the boardroom. Jimmy eventually came in and asked if my friend – who drove us down to the game – and I were stopping on the way back. I said yes, then asked him if he was going to stop anywhere.”
Colin laughs, then adopts a Scottish brogue: “His reply was, “Aye! We’re going to stop at the first shop I see which is open, I’m going to get the biggest tin of glue that they sell, and I’m going to keep the players’ feet on the ground!”
As heart-warming as those memories are, there is also an element of melancholy and sadness attached, as virtually no fan under the age of 30 is likely to remember these long-forgotten halcyon days. The Magpies were relegated from the top flight in 1992 and it’s been nothing but slim pickings since, with little more than a half-decent cup run now and then and a fourth tier championship to make up for perpetual strife, anxiety and relegation battles in the lower reaches of the Football League.
And Colin believes the fans should not put up with it any longer: “The ground they have, the tradition they have, the great players they’ve had down the years, all demands that Notts should be in the Championship, and it’s against that yardstick that they will be judged, whoever the manager is and whoever comprises the board of directors. It has to be their target to get back there…” and he makes a point of enunciating each and every letter, “ASAP!”
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Joe Jones
Notts County owner Alan Hardy has expressed his desire to forge closer links with Nottingham Forest and praised the attitude of their young players.
Jorge Grant, who Forest are looking to sign up on a three-year deal, had a successful loan spell at Meadow Lane, and Hardy believes all their academy prospects are being brought up the right way.
In his weekly Nottingham Post column, he wrote: "We want to continue to strengthen links with our neighbours.
"I do know that our manager, Kevin Nolan, has a good relationship with Frank McParland, their director of football.
"Forest do have an abundance of excellent young players who are on our doorstep and it would be remiss of us not to explore those avenues.
"There's something I greatly admire about the character of those Forest boys. They are really nice people to have around your football club and in the changing room.
"They have a great work ethic, they are the last off the training pitch, they always have a smile on their face and it's just the type of people that Kevin and I like as players.
"Whatever Forest do over there, they are certainly teaching them the right way."
To read the rest of Alan Hardy's weekly Nottingham Post column, click here.
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Joe Jones
 Alan Hardy has reiterated that he wants Jorge Grant back in a Notts County shirt but is unsure of Nottingham Forest's plans for the 22-year-old.
The Magpies chairman is willing to fund a move for the in-demand playmaker, who scored six goals in 23 games for the Magpies after arriving on loan from the City Ground in January.
However, Forest - who had the option of extending Grant's contract by another 12 months - have opted to put a three-year deal on the table, while there is also interest from Wigan Athletic.
"I would love to buy Jorge because he is a quality player and a really good lad," said Hardy.
"While it's great taking players on loan nothing can beat having a player on your books who lays down roots and becomes part of your long-term journey.
"He was instrumental for us last season and produced some wonderful goals and football along the way.
"But at this moment in time we don't know what Mark Warburton's view is.
"He may well fancy him for next year and make him a part of his plans. That's something we are waiting to find out.
"We would love to see him back here on loan if we cannot take him on a permanent deal.
"The fans absolutely love him here, he played regularly and the way he conducted himself was fantastic.
"He has that sparkle and the ability to turn a game on its head.
"Jorge is obviously settled in Nottingham and that's important for a player as it allows them to concentrate on their football.
"He doesn't have to worry about travelling, what hotel he is staying in and so on.
"We are really pleased that Jorge is wanting to put roots down in Nottingham and hopefully we will see him back at Meadow Lane next season."
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Joe Jones
The threat of liquidation hanging over Notts County has been formally lifted.
A petition to wind up the club was dismissed on Wednesday at the High Court in London after a "dramatic compromise" was signed at the door of the court.
Notts were being pursued for debts said to be more than £600,000 owed to Pinnacle Advantage Ltd, a company of which former Notts owner Ray Trew was director.
The League Two club had been trying to agree a settlement with the administrators for Pinnacle, which was liquidated last July.
When the matter returned to court, Simon Johnson, appearing for Pinnacle, told Miss Registrar Derrett: "A dramatic compromise has just been signed outside court".
James Pickering, representing Notts County, confirmed the compromise, and there were no other creditors the registrar declared: "The petition is dismissed with no order as to costs."
Originally, the club had faced a winding-up application brought by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs over reported debts of £500,000 - when the tax man's bill was settled, Pinnacle stepped in as a "substitute creditor".
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Joe Jones
Haydn Hollis has become the latest player to commit his future to Notts County after signing a new deal at Meadow Lane.
The 24-year-old central defender, a Magpies academy product, has made 133 appearances for the club since making his debut in January 2012, and has scored seven goals.
Hollis told the official Notts site: "Since the manager told me he wanted to offer me a new deal I’ve been desperate to sign it.
"The gaffer’s someone I love working for and Richard Thomas and Mark Crossley also deserve a lot of credit, along with everyone else the manager has with him.
"The club’s going into a new time now - we're even getting a new kit brand. It's completely changing and I’m glad I’m going to be a part of it."
Notts boss Kevin Nolan added: "I am absolutely delighted that Haydn has decided to stay with us.
"I have spoken a number of times about his attitude and the way he carries himself about the club - he has been first class since I walked through the door.
"Even when he found himself out of the squad he never let his professionalism or commitment slip. He kept working hard and thoroughly deserves his new deal."
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Joe Jones
Alan Hardy has praised Matt Tootle after the defender opened up about his mental health struggles and pledged to do more to ensure players are supported at Notts County.
The 26-year-old spoke about his battles with anxiety and depression earlier on in his career, admitting he "thought about ending it" and receiving treatment at the Priory Clinic.
"It takes a lot of guts and it was very brave of him to speak about it," Hardy told the Nottingham Post.
"To a degree, I've got a lot of affinity with what he was saying. People who know me, know that I'm not necessarily a level person; I'm up one day and down the next.
"I'm not comparing myself to Matt Tootle, but I've experienced a little bit of living in highs and lows. And when that low becomes even lower, then I can certainly identify with how low he must have got.
"It's very sad. The problem with mental illness and depression is that when you're at that point, hardly anybody can help you. It has to come from within and you have to dig really deep.
"I haven't seen (Tootle) since he did that interview, so next time I see him I will certainly be shaking him by the hand and saying, 'well done for digging deep and getting yourself out of that'."
Asked if clubs are more aware now about mental health issues among players, Hardy said: "No, I don't think they are. I don't think we are here.
"It's something which I'll be taking with John Wilson, our chief medic, about in the summer; about how we can identify what's going on with the players and whether we should be having some sort of psychological coaching to make sure the guys are in a good place.
"If you're not in a good place mentally, you've got no chance of performing well out on the pitch. I don't think as a society we do enough. It's something that we need to look at. We need to make sure we do more to really help those players. But Matt has done fantastic to come out and say what he's said, and to get himself back on top."
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Joe Jones
Alan Hardy has revealed that Notts County had already smashed the previous year's season ticket sales before the 2016-17 campaign was even over.
Season tickets for the 2017-18 campaign went up on sale on March 24, with the Notts owner attributing the increased take-up to optimism about the Magpies' future on and off the pitch.
"We have smashed last season's sales," Hardy told the Nottingham Post. "We had exceeded last year's season ticket sales before the season had finished.
"Sales have slowed down a little bit now because there's no football, but hopefully once the new Puma kit gets released that can give them another boost. That should land with us in the middle of July.
"Once the players report back for training at the end of June and the new kit comes out, then those sales will accelerate again.
"I just want to say a massive thank you to those fans who have bought their tickets early and really supported us.
"To exceed last year's season ticket sales before the season had even finished was remarkable.
"It shows how much enthusiasm and confidence the fans have got for next year.
"We exceeded it by about 10 percent up on last season's sales before the season had expired, it's tremendous."
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The recent League Two playoff games between Exeter City and Carlisle United, and Luton Town and Blackpool, have highlighted the narrow gap for error within this division.
Exciting as they may be to watch, the playoffs aren’t easy, nor are they straightforward as people may think.
Promotion at the end of the day can reap rewards for any club that is successful enough to clinch it - the evolution and step forward can ultimately turn around a club's fortunes too.
League Two teams on their day can beat anyone, just look how Hartlepool United managed to claim a victory over the champions on the final day, so success on the field involves hard work and a lot of perseverance.
Whilst some fans will argue that the standard of football is dire, it’s improved a lot over the years and is certainly difficult.
I feel any lower tier division usually is this way, as the National League is about the hardest of them all – yet League Two is no easy street.
Clubs have to earn their promotion and if Notts hadn’t lost all those games in a row, we may have been able to turn things around.
When we were in the drop zone, I never felt we would push out and be on the verge of mathematically pushing up the higher end of the division. This alone shows you how quickly things can change in League Two.
The league won’t be any easier next season, we will welcome the return of Lincoln City – who I feel will have a culture shock after how a portion of their fans have reacted in the past few days (well done for your promotion lads, but focus - you’re not champions of League Two yet). Yet they will give the majority of teams a good game on their day.
Forest Green Rovers are rather unknown but I expect them to invest and to be more successful than most of the smaller League Two teams – i.e the sides like Newport County, Morecambe and Cheltenham Town.
Other clubs falling down the pyramid will add further depth to the competition already found, with Port Vale being no push over. Swindon Town and Chesterfield are also sides that should be able to put aside the woes of relegation in order to focus on a new campaign.
I am aware from various comments that Chesterfield are in some financial difficulty, yet I fully expect them to be pushing for the top half of the table.
Coventry City may go on to replicate what we did in 1998 or lead the division like Doncaster Rovers did this campaign – I wouldn’t expect them to slip up at all.
There will be more than 10 teams who are all capable of pushing for the top positions, so League Two won’t exactly be there for the taking for any club – let alone us.
Whilst we may be able to watchfully cast an eye on the playoffs in terms of realistic expectations, all of this will depend on the type of signings we make and how Kevin Nolan can further gel his squad together.
I would love Notts to push for automatic promotion, yet I would say that stability usually takes a few seasons and at this early stage it’s looking like we will be just another decent League Two team.
A handful of exciting signings could easily change this, whilst a ‘real’ togetherness on the pitch and impact from us fans in the stands in terms of support may encourage a hard-working Notts County to exceed expectations.
I noticed a friend's comment recently on Facebook which got me thinking. Byron Webster, the Millwall defender, had been quoted as saying: “Going up this way is the best way to it” – referring to his side's League One playoff final win over Bradford City at Wembley.
There’s no denying that a trip to Wembley can't be an historic and grand occasion, yet if you aim to be one the division's best, you can’t rely on them.
Notts fans who recall our own playoff final forays just need to cast their memories back to Brighton & Hove Albion - we know that they’re joyous occasions but on the other hand we then have the 2-0 defeat to Bradford back in 1996.
Our track record in the playoffs stands at two wins (1989-90 and 1990-91) and two defeats (1987-88 and 1995-96), which pretty much sums up the 50/50 nature of the beast.
Therefore, I would personally hope that we could recruit in strength and build to gain promotion automatically.
However, if Notts were to find themselves in the playoffs, I know we would give it a good shot. We just shouldn't have to rely on them in order to return to League One.
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Joe Jones
Alan Hardy has set a target for Notts County to finish either in the playoffs or very close to them next season.
In addition, he revealed that he has given manager Kevin Nolan a 10 percent increase on last year's playing budget in a bid to hit that target.
Hardy has already overseen the signing of Lincoln City winger Terry Hawkridge and is expecting seven or eight further additions in the transfer window.
"Our playing budget last year was about the seventh or eighth highest in the division," Hardy told the Nottingham Post.
"I've given Kevin an extra 10 percent on last year. That will probably take us to top four, in terms of budget in League Two.
"But I'm expecting a call from Kevin in the last week before the season starts, saying, 'could I just borrow….!' On a serious note, I'm sure Kevin will be able to get the players he needs within that budget.
"I'd like to be very close to the play-offs. I think it's fair to say there would be a tinge of disappointment if we don't make the play-offs, because I think we are plenty good enough. Once you're in the play-offs it is a bit of a lottery.
"Making the play-offs or being very close to the play-offs I think is the target. If we come below halfway, it would probably be a disappointing season."
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Joe Jones
Alan Hardy has outlined his plans to set up a girls' academy at Notts County with a view to forming a sustainable Lady Pies outfit which will work its way up to the Women's Super League.
The Magpies owner and chairman took the decision to fold the original Notts County Ladies side last month due to it being unsustainable and "financial suicide" to keep afloat.
He was roundly criticised for the decision, but he insists that, as a business model, it simply did not work out, and this week he has pledged to bring women's football back to Meadow Lane the right way.
My ambition has always been to have a girls' academy sitting alongside the boys' academy," Hardy told the Nottingham Post.
"The boys' academy is super successful. We have a target and an ambition that 25 percent of the first-team will be made up of guys who have come through our academy in the next three years. That's the pathway we want, from academy through to first-team.
"Unfortunately, the ladies' team I inherited was an entity on its own. There was just the first-team; there was nothing that was attaching it to the club in any way – probably because it was brought over from Lincoln and it had no structure or foundations.
"As of next season, we will have an under-nines, under-10s and under-11s girls' academy, which will be playing in the boys' Young Elizabethan League (YEL).
"That will be starting in the next few weeks and we will be holding trials to pick out the best elite girls across the county, in order to take them on a wonderful coaching pathway from where they are now through to, ultimately, a ladies' first-team in six, eight years' time – and hopefully be the next England internationals.
"It's the start of something which has structure and foundations, and which is affordable and sustainable. It's always been my ambition.
"In the previous guise, Notts County Ladies was not a sustainable business model. And who knows where the Women's Super League will be in six years' time. It won't be in its current guise now, I'm sure of that. It will have morphed and developed.
"I would like Notts County to be a part of that. We'll have to work our way through the leagues and through the divisions, but that's how it should be.
"We will start at the bottom and we will work our way through. But the ultimate ambition is to have a ladies' team that is playing in the top-flight, whatever that is called and whatever it looks like.
"But what is absolutely critical is it is underpinned by an academy pathway, so girls who are joining that academy at age eight can see a very clear route through to the first-team."
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Elliott Hewitt has accepted Notts County's offer of a new contract, signing a two-year deal at Meadow Lane.
The 22-year-old joined the Magpies in 2015 from Ipswich Town and has made 74 appearances for the club, turning out at right back, central defence, on the wing and in central midfield.
This season, Hewitt made 29 appearances in League Two as Notts finished 16th in the table, and scored twice.
He told the official Notts website: "I would like to say a big thank you to the manager and chairman for the faith they’ve shown in me.
"This is where I want to be and I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a great 2017-18 season for the club.”
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Joe Jones
Former Millwall, Wimbledon and Republic of Ireland forward has been appointed as Notts County's new academy manager.
The 45-year-old joins the Magpies from the Nike Academy, where he spent three years coaching and developing talented unsigned players.
Goodman previously worked as head of sports science at Leeds United and Reading, and also ran a consultancy business which included Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton among its clients.
He told the official Notts website: “I am really excited to begin working at Notts County as academy manager.
“While working with Nike I took a keen interest in the club as I have known a number of the staff over the years. It’s also been brilliant to see the impact made by one of our former players, Jorge Grant, this season.
“I have been impressed by the vision, ambition and passion of the chairman, both for the club and the academy, and I look forward to delivering a successful programme that represents our core values of integrity, hard work, competition, positivity and responsibility."
Simon Clark, who was previously reported as having joined Notts as academy manager from Charlton Athletic, is now also on the books at Meadow Lane, as lead professional development phase coach.
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Joe Jones
The EFL regular season is now over, so for the clubs that aren't contesting the playoffs, it's full swing ahead in planning for next season.
Notts County owner Alan Hardy has this week written two columns on the Nottingham Post about his experiences of the transfer window so far, and what the club hopes to achieve and obtain in the upcoming one.
On his baptism of fire in the transfer window
Within two weeks of me taking on this role at Meadow Lane we were straight into the January transfer window. That was a real baptism of fire.
I was unable to sleep at night following intense negotiations over as little as £10 or £20 a week, and you wouldn't believe all the incentives that get built in along the way – appearance money, goal bonuses, all sorts.
I had been thrown in right at the deep end but I think it set me up really well for this transfer window. I feel far more prepared after picking up that invaluable experience.
What team he and Kevin Nolan would like to build
After the season finished, myself and the manager, Kevin Nolan, spent quite a lot of time talking about the team we'd like to build and what success looks like for us. That's success not only in terms of league position, but also in terms of how we're going to play and which formations we're going to use.
We both share a passion for attacking football, a strong defence, wide players who create lots of chances and big strikers in the area. We are absolutely on the same page in terms of what we'd like from a football perspective.
And, unlike in January, we now have almost a blank canvas to work from when it comes to forming a squad. It's quite exciting to be able to say, 'okay, what does the future look like?'.
The pitfalls of lower-league transfer window life
I found it quite surreal in a way, that you can get to the end of a season and find you've got five players signed on for next year. With Michael O'Connor out injured we are down to four players under contract for next season, which includes a goalkeeper – so, in essence, we've got three.
It was also quite daunting to think we've got the best part of 18 new contracts to negotiate, to agree and sign – quite a few of those will be for existing players, but you've still got to get everything agreed.
While there is some uncertainty over which players are yet to come and go, we do have a robust, carefully thought-out budget in place. Kevin and our chief executive, Jason Turner, will be working very closely together this summer, the former identifying his targets and the latter negotiating deals with agents and clubs.
In total I hope we'll be able to bring in around eight new players in a range of positions. Some we'll have to pay for, others will be out of contract and a few will come in on loan.
Kevin Nolan's reputation
What will be a huge help to us in the transfer market is Kevin's reputation. He's very, very well respected in the game and we're starting to receive calls from agents whose players are saying, 'I've heard such great things about Notts County and I want to play for Kevin Nolan'.
There are two players in particular who have been offered deals with League One clubs, but they would prefer to come to us. They are at the beginning of their footballing journey and feel they would learn so much more from Kevin because of his experience and knowledge, which is really refreshing to hear.
Having to let players down
This is a hugely exciting time of year in the world of football but it's incredibly ruthless at times, particularly when it comes to making decisions that affect the business. You only have to ask Kevin how he felt after having to tell a number of players recently that their time at Meadow Lane was up.
I share his compassion and find it tough talking about players as if they are just numbers, taking away the human side and doing your best not to be influenced by the fact they've got families to feed and mortgages to pay. Unfortunately, there's no room for sentiment in this industry.
What I found particularly difficult was saying goodbye to the academy players who we didn't offer professional contracts to. Letting them go was probably more heartbreaking than the professionals because those boys haven't yet had their chance.
It took me back to my early football days when I was released by Doncaster Rovers. It brought all those emotions back, from when I was 18 or 19 and thrown on the scrapheap.
It's a ruthless sport and I really feel for those academy players. They have given their all for the last couple of years to try to make it in the game and hopefully they will find other clubs and come back stronger.
To read Alan Hardy's Nottingham Post columns from this week, follow this link and this link.
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Joe Jones
Notts County have made their first signing of the 2016-17 post-season by recruiting Lincoln City winger Terry Hawkridge on a two-year deal.
The Nottingham-born 27-year-old was part of the Imps side which cruised to National League glory this year, helping Danny Cowley's boys into League Two as well as the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
Speaking to the official Notts website, Hawkridge - who played for Carlton Town and Hucknall Town early on in his career - said: “It was a tough decision to leave Lincoln.
"However, I feel I have unfinished business here having been released as a kid. It’s my home city – I’m originally from Top Valley – so I am buzzing to be here.
“I’m looking forward to getting started and learning a lot from the experienced players in the squad, as well as the manager.
“I didn’t know what was happening after the National League season finished but now I have signed here I can go away, enjoy a short break and come back ready for the first day of pre-season training.
“I’m a winger who can play on either side but I like to cut in from the left. I’ve got a bit of pace, I can cross with either foot and I have some tricks up my sleeve. I know I can bring goals and hopefully create some special memories here.”
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Joe Jones
Alan Hardy has admitted that Nottingham Forest are likely to extend Jorge Grant's current deal at the City Ground.
The midfielder enjoyed a brilliant loan spell at Notts County this season and the club owner is eager to sign him up permanently.
However, Hardy is also aware that his progress at Meadow Lane will not have gone unnoticed by both his parent club - who have an option to extend his deal by another year, and any other suitors, with Bristol City and Wigan Athletic rumoured to be after him.
"Jorge enjoyed his time here. He did fantastically well," Hardy told the Nottingham Post. "I think Jorge is the first to admit that he's grown as a player since being here.
"That's no detriment to Forest, it's purely because he's been given the opportunity to play first-team football.
"The ball is in Forest's court. They have got an option on him and it looks like they are likely to exercise that option.
"Whether we then buy him from Forest or we have him on loan, or Forest may well decide to keep him, we'll have to see. Unfortunately, we aren't holding any of the cards.
"Discussion at the moment is between Forest and Jorge. We've registered our interest, Jorge knows how we feel, Jorge knows how much we would pay him, the ball is very much in Forest's court."
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