The sign in Brian Constable's office reads as follows: "Brian's Rules' - (1) Brian is always right . . ." There is a band of discontented fans and lovers of Witney Town Football Club who would give you an argument on that.

Brian Constable is the self-made businessman who made it his business to pull the plug on 116 years of football history in west Oxfordshire when he decided that, financially, Witney Town FC was dead in the water at the end of last season and that he was sick and tired of supplying the lifeboats.

Brian Constable Indeed, according to Mr Constable, the club had been living on borrowed time ever since he took over as chief executive eight years ago. "I knew when I took it on that it would not be an easy ride," he says. "The club faced a winding-up petition and were £178,000 in debt. It was always going to be a struggle. I placed all debts against the property (the club's Marriotts Stadium site) and mortgaged it, and we had a clean bill of health by 1995, but several times I had given warnings.

"A football club of any consequence needs supporters, but the supporters didn't support Witney Town. It needed more action as far as sponsorship activities were concerned."

Brian Constable is a partner in Macleans Coaches in the town. He says the company sponsored the football club to the tune of £20,000 every year since he took over and that this figure rose to £27,000 in the last two years. He claims the squad of 16 plus the manager accounted for a wage bill of about £60,000.

"We were getting fewer than 100 supporters at home games," he says. "When I came in here in 1993, I gave them a future but they felt that their pockets were going to be filled up every five minutes - but it was not to be. I offered to resign in 1997.

"Now the debts are £80,000 and the mortgage is £100,000, so even if I sold it now, over the eight years I would still be out of pocket."

The question of the sale of Witney Town Football Club and its stadium is the bone of contention here, the folding of the team a matter of intense sorrow and anger. The club's supporters - who call themselves '1885' after the year the club was founded - are deeply unhappy over Brian Constable's attitude. It has been claimed that the football club saga has made the 49-year old bachelor the most hated man in Witney.

The 1885 members claim Mr Constable folded the club when there was no need to - an offer meeting his asking price of £360,000 was on the table, they say.

Mark Reid, the chairman of 1885, says: "Brian Constable is very quick to blame everyone else, but he was in control of the finances. No-one has ever knocked what he did in 1993, but he needs to remember that it was the supporters who voted him in then and it was a close vote. His proposals sounded good - he wanted Witney Town to be in the General Vauxhall Conference League within ten years."

Two bids were made. One, from a Jersey firm, is still "very much alive" according to the businessman, who adds: "We have put a proposal to build a greyhound track around the pitch and are waiting for a response from West Oxfordshire District Council."

Mr Constable owns seven greyhounds and takes a keen interest in their progress at tracks around the country.

The rival bid came from a Northampton businessman via an agent, and it was a bid that was immediately greeted with suspicion by Brian Constable. "I think this bid was made with 1885 to con me into granting another extension to the football team, to run them for another season in the Doctor Marten's League. When I withdrew Witney Town from the league, the Northampton offer was withdrawn," he claims.

Indeed, Mr Reid freely admits the anonymous Northampton businessman was approached by 1885 members because they believed he might be sympathetic to their cause of keeping the team they loved alive.

"Brian Constable wanted us to find a buyer to run the club - and then accused us of going behind his back when we did," says Mr Reid.

"We don't believe that he ever wanted to sell the site in the first place and the setting up of Witney Academy was just to meet the terms of the covenant - they would be run as amateurs and that would leave him free to make money out of the social club and developing the place as a dog track. As for his claim that the wage bill was £60,000, we say it was never more than an absolute maximum of £50,000 and probably nearer to £1,000 a week."

"With the Northampton bid, they would have run the social club and we would have run the football side and a sum of money of around five figures would come from the social club for shirt sponsorship. But Brian Constable never wanted to sell," he claims.

Mr Reid and fellow disgruntled supporters are convinced the businessman had intended to fold the club as far back as last Christmas and that he had set up a new company to further his plans in February of this year. These plans, they claim, would involve Witney Academy - ostensibly a 'feeder' club for Witney Town - playing at the Marriots Stadium, thereby fulfilling the existing covenant that guarantees football must be played at the ground for a further 21 years and that Mr Constable would then be free to develop the social club at the site and introduce a dog track.

But Mr Constable describes these claims as "ridiculous".

He says: "At the end of the day it would have been easier for me if I sold the club to someone who was interested.

"I had no need to go back in there in February. If I was going to fold it, why did I allow the lease to go ahead for another 15 years?

"This could have cost me my livelihood and it wasn't supposed to cost me the coach company, but it would have done. From February 9-May 5, it cost me nearly £9,000 to keep the team playing," he claims.

Irresistible object, immovable force; the lovers of the grass roots grand old game against the determined moves of a self-made man with a company employing 48 people and turning over £1.5m a year; a group of romantics and a hard-headed businessman.

"That would be about right," Brian Constable agrees.

"All 1885 are doing is trying to keep something alive that needs more than words. And the words they're using aren't going to help.

"Do I worry about the abuse that's supposed to be on the Internet about me, or being described as the most hated man in Witney? No, I 've been a football referee for years, and I've adapted to getting abuse from football supporters..."

The football supporters of Witney Town Football Club feel that their beloved team and, by extension, the Beautiful Game itself, has been crippled by a financial tackle from behind and slapped in the face with a chequebook.

The sign in Brian Constable's office ends as follows: "Brian's Rules - (2) If Brian is wrong, see Rule 1...."