It is a phrase Tommy Widdrington has used more than once.

But in football parlance, it could not be more relevant.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, says Eastbourne Borough boss Widdrington.

At another time it could be in reference to Widdrington himself: a passionate, nearing on fiery, Geordie whose touchline antics mask a deep-thinking football man with an incredible knowledge of the game.

But Widdrington is not talking about himself; he wouldn’t. He is referring to Nathaniel Barrington Pinney.

To those who don’t know him, the 25-year-old is an overweight former professional footballer.

As Widdrington says, though, first appearances do not tell the whole story.

Pinney’s look is suggestive of someone who cannot keep up with others he is playing against. How wrong you all are. His feet are quicker than most he is in opposition with, his football brain is on a par and his movement around the pitch belies what you see.

Twenty-six goals this season, most of them in the sixth tier of English football at Vanarama National League south, tell you that Pinney is anything but a has-been.

His latest was the winner in Friday’s Parafix Sussex Senior Cup final when Borough beat Worthing 1-0 at the Amex.

A late red card for a second bookable offence in the 90th minute was hard on Pinney, who Widdrington felt should have picked up the man-of-the-match award. “By a million miles he was the best player on the pitch,” said the Borough boss.

Don’t take those words lightly. Widdrington played with Matt Le Tissier in his pomp and knows a good player from a bad one.

That’s why the former Southampton midfielder made one of his first moves of the summer to get Pinney to agree to a new two-year deal at Priory Lane.

Widdrington knows what Pinney is capable of – and that is playing higher than he currently is.

Pinney is Borough’s biggest asset. Sadly, throwing it back to Widdrington’s comment, few will look at the asset aspect and will focus instead on the word that precedes it.

As a kid, Pinney came through the ranks at Crystal Palace and went on to make two appearances for the first team. Wilfried Zaha described him as the only player he could not displace in the Palace youth set-up.

That is one terrific endorsement of a talent and you have to ask what really went wrong, in that Pinney did not make it at Selhurst Park and instead dropped into non-league football.

Whatever happened, things are going pretty well for Pinney now.

He is enjoying his football and scoring goals. Strip everything back, including the obscene amounts of amount which devalue modern football, and is there anything more you want from the beautiful game?

Pinney is certainly enjoying himself. He had a smile on his face at the end on Friday night, despite the red card which saw him disappear down the tunnel before the final whistle.

His goal was a case in point. Hands up who expected Pinney to cross in the 52nd minute after engineering some space for himself with quick feet to leave a supposedly more nimble defender floundering? Instead, he rolled the ball under the Worthing goalkeeper from an angle most forwards would not have tried from.

It was a player who knew what he was doing and had the ability to carry it through.

Now Pinney wants to take his form into the 2016-17 season with a Borough side, who announced on Friday there would be a six-figure investment in the club from a local businessman for next season, primarily to underwrite the cost of a 3G pitch being laid at Priory Lane but in real terms giving Widdrington more wriggle room in assembling the squad he wants – with Pinney a central part of it.

Pinney told The Argus on Friday: “Credit to all the boys, because my goals wouldn’t have come without the boys helping me. I am glad that I have got 26 goals. Hopefully next year I can try to beat that. The main thing is the team and we got the win.

“I am loving my football at the moment. Training, playing in matches. It is all good, a good team, a good manager who builds confidence around the boys. I can’t wait for next year.”