THE passing years might have blunted his reactions a little, but George Black's competitive instincts remain as sharp as ever.

"I played a game for the third team down at Ayr recently when the opposite goalkeeper was a boy of 12," recounts the Stepps Hockey Club veteran. "He played quite a good game . . . even if I conceded fewer goals than he did."

Quite an achievement at the age of 86. Not that there is any bombast in the statement, any hubris or arrogance, just a quiet sense of satisfaction. Unlike when he was in his pomp, it is no longer in Black's manner to boast. When asked to outline an accomplished career, the former Scotland internationalist is now almost dismissive. "You don't want to hear about all that," he says, before eventually relenting. "Och, I suppose I've done alright in my own way."

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Having represented Scotland on 48 occasions, Great Britain three times, been a non-travelling reserve for the 1964 Olympics and travelled the world playing hockey, his assessment is something of an understatement. Indeed, Black is widely considered one of the most decorated players in Scottish hockey history and represented the national team well in to his fifth decade.

"Back then, I was big-headed enough to think I was still the best man for the job," he says, smiling. "In fact, when I was younger, I was a big-headed lump. I never thought anyone else was any better than me. I was the best there was, as far as I was concerned. Everyone loved putting the ball past me and I developed a fair wee reputation, to the point when some players were more interested in how many goals they put past George Black than if they actually won or not. But I seemed to do okay."

The sprightly pensioner uses similar words to describe his current efforts on a hockey pitch. The president and goalkeeper of the Scottish Veterans LX Hockey Club remains a regular in Stepps' development and third XIs, and still derives huge satisfaction from thwarting opponents with grandfathers younger than him.

Conceding goals does still darken his mood, but Black refuses to subscribe to the view held by many former elite athletes that the frustration of not being able to hit the heights of old compromises enjoyment. "I still love the game," he says. "I know I'm nowhere near as good as I was – the head still works but the messages don't get to the limbs quickly enough – but I enjoy the company and it stops me thinking I'm old, which is something I never want to admit.

"Maybe I'll have to think seriously about retiring before long but it's very difficult to let go. As it is, goalkeepers are scarce and I am stupid enough to enjoy it so it saves me fighting for my place.

"I've been fortunate that I'm still stubborn enough to keep plenty of shots out, even if it hurts a little bit more the next day than it once did. But if the captain phones and says 'we need you this week, George' I'm ready to play."

It was ever thus. As a Bevin Boy, conscripted to work in a Sauchie coal mine during the Second World War, Black would join his friends in turning out for Stepps during weekends at home, gradually persuading his manager at the mine to permit him greater flexibility of hours to accommodate fixtures. When the conflict ended, he became a more regular member of the club and has been part of their various teams ever since, continuing a family association that began when his father became groundsman.

"It could have almost been any sport really," Black says. "My mates were playing so I joined them and never looked back. It was all local boys who lived within a street or two of each other and everybody knew everybody else through the Boys' Brigade or the tennis club or whatever else.

"I was coming home every second week and one time they needed a goalkeeper and I was willing to make up the numbers. George Sime, an Olympic player, was the captain and he gave me the pads, showed me what to do, battered me a couple of times with his stick and that started it. I seem to have fitted in alright since."

That he is still pulling on those pads is, concedes Black, something he could never have imagined all those years ago, even if he suspects they "might have to carry me off the park one of these days" if he attempts to play until his 100th birthday. More imminent, though, is the centenary of Stepps Hockey Club, an event which will be marked with a series of events in August.

As the only member who attended both the 75th and 50th celebrations and played in games to mark the occasions, Black will spend the next few months not only rounding up forgotten friends but also maintaining his fitness with regular games of tennis and badminton in an attempt to secure selection. "I want to get into the team and I'm a stubborn old soul," he states. "I already have a couple of regrets – not making it to 50 caps and not going to the Olympics – but playing in this game would go some way to making up for that."