Tragedy as Socceroos star Stephen Laybutt’s body is found in bushland after the 46-year-old went missing

Former Socceroos star Stephen Laybutt’s body has been discovered in bushland on the NSW far north coast after he was reported missing on Saturday morning.

The 46-year-old – who played 15 matches for the national team from 2000 to 2004 – spent Friday with friends near Casuarina, close to the Queensland border.

Police found his silver Mercedes parked outside a shop in Cabarita at 11.30am Saturday and asked for the public’s assistance as they launched an extensive search.

Stephen Laybutt, 46, played 15 matches for the national team from 2000 to 2004. He was reported missing on Saturday morning near the NSW/Queensland border

Laybutt was playing for the Newcastle Jets (pictured right, contesting a ball with John Aloisi) when his career was ended by a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2008

Laybutt was playing for the Newcastle Jets (pictured right, contesting a ball with John Aloisi) when his career was ended by a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2008

Laybutt’s body was found at 7pm on Sunday in bushland near Cabarita. He was 46 years old.

The former Sydney Olympic and Newcastle Jets star came out as gay after his playing career was ended by an Achilles tendon rupture in January 2008.

In December 2021, Laybutt donated one of his kidneys to a virtual stranger by sending a lifesaving text message in a random act of kindness.

At the time he was assisting patients recovering from surgery and other ailments in the rehab unit at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Private Hospital.

That’s where he met Ian Pavey, 67, who was on the transplant list awaiting a donor for his failing kidneys.

Mr Pavey endured an excruciating three years on dialysis, until a text message from Laybutt on February 28 changed his life.

‘Hey mate it’s Steve from St Vincent’s,’ the message said.

The football star came out as gay after he retired, saying, 'My sexuality had a massive effect on my career'

The football star came out as gay after he retired, saying, ‘My sexuality had a massive effect on my career’ 

The 46-year-old (pictured playing for the Newcastle Jets) donated one of his kidneys to a virtual stranger in a stunning display of generosity in 2021

The 46-year-old (pictured playing for the Newcastle Jets) donated one of his kidneys to a virtual stranger in a stunning display of generosity in 2021

Laybutt sent the above text message to Ian Pavey, 67, back in February 2021

Laybutt sent the above text message to Ian Pavey, 67, back in February 2021

‘I want to investigate if I could give you a kidney. Consider it please.’

‘Who is this?’ this the 67-year-old replied.

The pair, who were virtually strangers, met while Laybutt was helping Mr Pavey recover from knee surgery while he received dialysis in another part of the hospital.

‘I just liked his attitude,’ Laybutt said.

‘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.’

Mr Pavey was in disbelief after spending three years on the hospital’s transplant list, with his wife deemed as an incompatible donor.

But Laybutt was a perfect match.

Laybutt (pictured with a friend) previously revealed hiding his true self took a toll on him as 'nobody knew' he was gay before he came out

Laybutt (pictured with a friend) previously revealed hiding his true self took a toll on him as ‘nobody knew’ he was gay before he came out

‘After the operation, I was in a private room in the public hospital, just sitting there in disbelief that someone had actually done this for me,’ Mr Pavey recalled.

‘I knew he was a Socceroos player but I’m a rugby fan. I supposed I’ll have to change codes. We will be bonded for life.’

Laybutt grew up in Wollongong before he was awarded a scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport.

He later signed with the Brisbane Strikers before representing Australia in the Sydney 2000 Olympics with the Olyroos.

In the same year the burgeoning football star made his debut with the Socceroos while bouncing between clubs in Europe and Australia.

After a ruptured Achilles tendon during the 2008 A-League series sent Laybutt into retirement, the star came out as gay – something he was never comfortable doing throughout his career.

Laybutt met his partner Michael Lutteral in 2010, and the soccer player reflected on how retirement from football allowed him to confront who he was.

The centre back (pictured at Jets training) represented Australia at the 2000 Sydney Olympics

The centre back (pictured at Jets training) represented Australia at the 2000 Sydney Olympics

‘[My sexuality] had a massive effect on my career,’ Laybutt said.

‘I wish I’d played in a World Cup – but it was still a half decent career.’

He revealed how much of a struggle it was to reveal his true self after he’d finished playing football.

‘There was no way that I was ever going to come out,’ he said.

‘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 contacted A-League star Josh Cavallo after he came out in October 2021.

‘The support he’s got is great, but hopefully he can kick on and be a decent player who is judged on his ability, not being the gay footballer, even if that’s what he will always be,’ he said at the time.

‘I’m comfortable in my skin now. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed. It’s who I am.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk