Tributes flow as ‘extremely courageous’ ex-Socceroo found dead in Northern NSW after police search


The body of former Socceroos defender Stephen Laybutt has been found by police after a search in Northern NSW.

Laybutt, 46, had been reported missing over the weekend near Casuarina, where he had been visiting friends. A large search was organised by NSW Police, with remains found on Sunday evening. His death is not being treated as suspicious.

A 15-time Socceroos international as well as a 2000 Olympian, Laybutt’s career spanned the NSL and A-League eras in Australian football, while he also played around the world with stints in the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium and Japan.

He retired in 2008 after a short period with Newcastle Jets, and later shocked the soccer world by coming out as gay after retirement.

“[My sexuality] had a massive effect on my career,” he told media at the time.

“I wish I’d played in a World Cup – but it was still a half decent career. There was no way that I was ever going to come out.

“Everyone says your mum knows, your best friend knows…Nobody knew. It takes a fair bit of effort to hide like that.

I had girlfriends; I thought I had to go down that path but you think, ‘How’s this going to work?’

Then football goes and life moves on and you say to yourself, ‘Come on, get real’. Just lying to yourself all the time. That breaks you and you head down a path of self-destruction.”

Laybutt had been working at St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst and made headlines by donating a kidney to one of his own patients in 2021.

Ian Pavey had been waiting for a donor for over three years when the former footballer intervened with a shock text message.

“Hey mate it’s Steve from St Vincent’s,” he wrote to Pavey. “I want to investigate if I could give you a kidney. Consider it please.”

Tributes have already begun to flow.

“The former AIS graduate was known as one of the toughest defenders in the league and always played with his heart on his sleeve,” said Football NSW in a statement.

“Football NSW wishes to send its deepest condolences to the Laybutt family. May he rest in heavenly peace.”

Ex-Socceroo Robbie Slater described him as “extremely courageous”.

“He was a very good player, I played against him a few times when he was with the Brisbane Strikers,” he said.

“He was a big guy, uncompromising, he had a very good career and probably a highlight for him was his time in Belgium.”

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