JOHN CAMPBELL'S recollections are not dimmed by the passing of time; instead they have become more cherished.

A smile spreads across his face when he thinks back to the evening in 1952 when he boarded a Glasgow tram, trophy under his arm and his fellow late-night passengers eyeing him with suspicion. How were they to know this unassuming 17-year-old had just become the new Scottish senior table tennis champion?

Campbell laughs and suggests a similar scenario might unfold tomorrow when he leaves Scotstoun Leisure Centre. "It's 60 years since I won it and I'm going back to defend it," he says with mock hubris of his entry into this year's national championships. "I suppose it will be a celebration of some kind; that I'm still fit enough and good enough to play in it. But I'm not going to delude myself thinking I am going to win it again."

Maybe not, but few of the 700 who gathered in Bellahouston's Palace of Art to see the teenager triumph in what was his first senior event all those years ago thought he could emerge victorious from that field of 400 competitors. This year's entry might be smaller, but Campbell's desire to prove people wrong won't be any less.

Having already been recognised of sufficient standard to enter the event, his next target is to teach a few lessons. "Some of them might have mild apprehension about playing me because they are worried about losing their dignity," he says. "But it might be the case that I surprise one or two of the youngsters who see this 77-year-old and think it's going to be a cakewalk but get a nasty surprise.

"I suppose there is an element of conceit in there, too; of proving to myself and to other people that I can still do it and that I'm as good as anyone else. Of course, there's a bit of apprehension – am I going to make a fool of myself or am I going to be some latter-day star? – but if I can go and prove that age need not be a barrier to endeavour, I'll consider it a success . . . as pretentious as that sounds."

Campbell can already offer a welter of evidence to support that claim. Having enjoyed a respectable, if unspectacular, career in the wake of his debut victory – he combined table tennis with his job as a television engineer – he stepped away from the game in his late 30s as a new generation of players began to make their mark. However, having noticed his fitness depreciating as he reached his mid-50s, he decided to lift a bat once more, adapting his game to suit the developments in style and equipment and eventually finding that he could be successful in veteran events. Then the competitive spirit kicked in.

Now retired, he splits his year between his home in Kirkintilloch and a flat in Florida, taking advantage of his dual residency to take part in the burgeoning American seniors circuit. Having won both the singles and doubles gold in his state championship, Campbell went on to last year's American Nationals in Houston, taking silver in the doubles and a bronze in the over-70 category to add to a silver from the European Championships in Croatia and bronze in the World Senior Games in St George, Utah.

"I've been around the world representing Scotland and seeing the flag flying gives you real national pride," he says. "I've had a tremendous amount of pleasure and self-fulfilment and I know that sounds a bit grandiose and phoney but it's true. I've been to places like Japan, New Zealand and Las Vegas; how many people go to Las Vegas to play ping pong? All the glitter and glamour is just a wee bit different from the Palace of Arts in 1952 although, having said that, the table remains the same and your opponent is at the other side regardless of where you are playing."

Perhaps the most important thing of all is the fact that Campbell remains so active. Be it in the States or in Scotland, he plays at least three times a week and against younger opponents so that he is continually pushing himself; a regime that has allowed him to return to the weight he was at the age of 21.

His intention, he says, is to play "until they carry me away" but the unwillingness of many of his peers to do the same is a source of some dismay. "Playing is great for your physical and mental health," he says. "There was a study done in Japan suggesting table tennis could prevent Alzheimer's and I certainly find my reactions are still very sharp. I just hope that some people maybe see this and think 'I wish I could do that' because we have this reputation as the sick man of Europe and if people participated in sport at any level or age then that could change. There's nothing stopping them."