Tributes paid after gay Olympic footballer Stephen Laybutt is found dead

Stephen Laybutt plays in a match between the Olyroos and Nigeria

Gay former Australian footballer Stephen Laybutt has been remembered as a “kind person and a highly talented player”.

Laybutt’s body was found in bushland near Cabarita beach, in New South Wales, on Sunday (14 January). He was last seen in Casuarina two days earlier.

The 46-year-old defender, who played for the Socceroos, the Australian national team, 15 times between 2000 and 2004, was a resident of Elizabeth Bay, in Sydney. He played in the Olympics in 2000.

“The circumstances surrounding his death are not being treated as suspicious,” police said. 

Laybutt, who was visiting friends in Casuarina couldn’t be located or contacted on the Saturday morning and was reported missing. 

“Following an extensive search, a body, believed to be that of the missing man, was located in bushland near Cabarita about 7 pm,” a police spokesperson said.

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Tributes have poured in for the centre back, who played for top-flight side Newcastle Jets. He came out as gay after retiring in 2008, following an injury to his achilles tendon. 

Stephen Laybutt of the Newcastle Jets runs with the ball during an A-League match against the Central Coast Mariners
Stephen Laybutt’s body was found in bushland in New South Wales. (Getty/Corey Davis)

Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said Laybutt had “left a lasting legacy in our football community”. 

Johnson particularly recalled the star’s contribution during the OFC National Cup victories and the Sydney Olympics.

“We remember Stephen not just for his accomplishments on the field but also for his character and the positive influence he had on those around him.

“He will be remembered as part of the Socceroos family and will be deeply missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time,” Johnson added.

Anter Isaac, the chairman of Football Australia, said the football community in Australia and beyond had suffered a “profound loss” following Laybutt’s death. 

“Stephen represented the very best of Australian football: talent, perseverance and a commitment to excellence,” Isaac continued. “His memorable performances for the Socceroos and his significant role in pivotal victories will for ever be etched in the annals of our football history.” 

Taking to X/Twitter, former Socceroo star Craig Foster remembered Laybutt as a “gentle, kind person and a highly talented player”. 

Laybutt, who also played for Bellmare Hiratsuka in Japan’s J-League, admitted to struggling with his sexuality initially, but said life became better after he met his partner Michael Lutteral in 2010. 

While working at St Vincent’s private hospital, in Sydney, following his retirement, he donated a kidney to dialysis patient Ian Pavey.

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