Body of Socceroo Stephen Laybutt found in NSW bushland

The body of an ex-Socceroo player has been discovered in bushland in northern NSW less than 48-hours after he disappeared.

Officers located Stephen Laybutt’s body near Cabarita on the North Coast at about 7pm Sunday after an extensive police search.

The Elizabeth Bay local was last seen about 48 hours earlier at 9pm Friday at a friend’s home in nearby Casuarina, where he had travelled earlier that day.

The 46-year-old was reported missing on Saturday morning after he couldn’t be located or contacted.

His car, a silver Mercedes, was found near a set of shops in Cabartia at 11:30am on Saturday.

A talented footballer, Mr Laybutt played 15 matches for the Socceroos between 2000 and 2004 and remained with the A-League’s Newcastle Jets until he ruptured his achilles tendon in 2008 and was forced to retire.

He also represented Australia at the 2000 Olympics with the Olyroos team.

Mr Laybutt grew up in Wollongong before going onto play for the Brisbane Strikers and Parramatta Power early in his career.

He later enjoyed an overseas career, playing for various teams in Europe.

After retiring from football, Mr Laybutt came out as gay.

Hiding his sexuality was something that had a “massive effect” on his career, he later revealed.

“I wish I’d played in a World Cup – but it was still a half decent career. A few rumours went around, some media approached me, but I didn’t return their calls,” he told the Star Observer.

Mr Laybutt also made headlines in 2021 when he selflessly donated his kidney to a man on dialysis he had met while working at the rehabilitation unit at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.

He contacted patient Ian Pavey via text message with the offer to save his life.

“Hey mate it’s Steve from St Vincent’s,” the message said according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“I want to investigate if I could give you a kidney. Consider it please.”

Mr Laybutt had been helping the 67-year-old recover from a knee operation and said he made the incredible offer because he “liked his attitude”.

“He was always positive. I thought, ’I should help this guy’. People have asked me what the thought process was behind it. I just thought it was the right thing to do,” he said at the time.

Tributes have begun to pour in for the ex-Socceroo, with football legend Robbie Slater describing his death as a tragedy.

“He was a very good player, I played against him a few times when he was with the Brisbane Strikers,” Mr Slater told The Daily Telegraph.

“He was a big guy, uncompromising, he had a very good career and probably a highlight for him was his time in Belgium (where he played for Mouscron and Gent from 2003 to 2007).”

Mr Slater described him as an “extremely courageous person” for being open about his sexuality.

Former Socceroos star Luke Wilkshire took to Instagram to commemorate his passing.

“We all need to be better. Sadly, players are easily forgotten,” he wrote

“Rest in peace Laybs.”

Football Australia has also paid tribute.

“The former AIS graduate was known as one of the toughest defenders in the league and always played with his heart on his sleeve,” the organisation wrote on social media.

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

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