DEAN KEATES is hoping football can return before 2021 - but insists that playing behind closed doors matches is simply not an option.

The 2019/20 National League season was brought to a premature end last month, although the final standings and whether or not the play-offs can be staged are yet to be finalised.

Regardless of if the play-offs go ahead or not, mass gatherings are unlikely to be allowed until the new year at the earliest, meaning that any return for football before then is highly unlikely to involve supporters.

Unlike those at the top of the football food chain, clubs in non-league rely on matchday income to survive and Reds boss Keates can’t see how behind-closed-doors action is viable in the National League and below.

“I hope that’s not the case, but from day one it’s been about making sure people are healthy and looking after their wellbeing,” said Keates of football not returning until 2021.

On the idea of behind closed doors matches, Keates continued: “I can’t see it happening in the National League.

“Clubs can’t support it because they will have players under contract out on the pitch doing their jobs, but then there would be no income coming into the club.

“We don’t get enough money filtering down from television rights and we don’t get the sums of money that teams at the top do, maybe that will change?

“We’ve had a payment of £50,000, but that’s just an advance. Maybe there will be another payment?”

A statement issued last week by the Wrexham Supporters Trust revealed that the club’s current outgoings are around £10,000 a month.

Wrexham’s players and staff have been placed on furlough, which has in turn prevented the club from bringing any money in.

Keates, who has just six players under contract for next season, said: “There is money going out and nothing coming in.

“There’s no-one in the club shops or anything like that, so it’s not possible to bring money in at the moment.”

For Keates and Wrexham, any return to action means a return to pre-coronavirus football - a 90 minute match played in-front of a crowd.

“I’ve just been reading things like everyone else,” said Keates. “I’ve seen rumours about various things, one of the latest things is halves being shortened, which is unrealistic.

“If you are playing a game of football you are playing properly and it should only be when it’s safe to do so.”

Keates enjoyed a 20-year playing career, starring for the likes of Wrexham, Hull City, Peterborough and hometown club Walsall.

Would Keates be ready to pull his boots on in the current climate?

He said: “It’s hard to say. All you want to do as a player is play football. But it’s not just about you, it’s about your family and making sure they are safe as well as you.

“We will wait until we are told it’s safe to return.

“We won’t get started again until the new season starts and that will be when everything has settled down and ‘normal life’ - whatever that might look like now - resumes.”