THE first snooker player from Southampton to qualify for the professional circuit has less than two weeks to prepare for his debut.

Billy Castle won the six most important matches of his career at Q School in Preston to earn a two-year tour card.

The 24-year-old from Marchwood described it as a dream come true but he insisted he always had the belief that this day would eventually come.

“I was laid down that night trying to get to sleep and I was thinking am I still dreaming,” he said. “I was trying to pinch myself.

“It’s something I’ve always dreamt of and to actually do it is just unbelievable. But I’ve always believed in myself.

“To be the first player from Southampton to do it is something special.”

Castle is the first professional to have graduated from the renowned junior section at Chandlers Ford Snooker Club.

Recalling his debut in the club’s Saturday morning Under-13 league at the age of 11, he said: “My first match was against Jordan Sainsbury on table four, I remember that.

“I had a Jimmy White cue that was smaller than everyone else’s.”

Club spokesman and World Snooker coach Tim Dunkley said: “Billy has trail blazed a path that others can now follow.

“It suddenly makes it all very real for our current players.”

Coached by late Saints star Ken Jones, Castle won his first Cuestars tournament in Gosport in December, 2006.

The former England international, who won the 2013 Town Championship, earned a free Q School place worth £600 - sponsored by Frames Sports Bar, Coulsdon - by winning the Cuestars South of England Championship Tour.

He then needed to reach the semi-finals of either of the two events to join the pro-circuit.

After five hard-fought victories, one more win was required. And that became one frame as he led another ex-pro, Paul S Davison (Pickering, Yorks), 3-0.

However, Davison pulled two back. Castle compiled a 51 break in the sixth frame but nearly threw his chance away when his opponent needed snookers.

While playing a safety shot on the brown, Castle cannoned the black into a pocket and left himself snookered. He failed to escape and left a free ball. But after a subsequent safety shot was poorly executed by Davison, Castle potted the brown and rolled the blue in deadweight for a famous 4-2 victory.

“There were a lot of good players up there,” he said. “It was a good standard.

“I knew all year that if I played up there the way I can play, I’d be all right.”

Cuestars director John Hunter said: “The aim was to find someone who could progress through the whole structure to the professional game.

“For it to happen in the first year we introduced the Q School place, I can’t really take it in.”

Dad-of-two Castle, who moved to Reading when he got married, returns to the Guild Hall, Preston, on May 31 for the qualifying rounds of the Riga Masters.