Tributes have been paid to respected sports journalist Ian Laybourn who has died just weeks after retirement aged 67.

Ian, of Holmfirth, had reported on rugby league for almost half-a-century and had been the Press Association’s rugby league correspondent for over 25 years.

Batley-born Ian started out on his hometown newspaper, the Batley News, and later worked for the Huddersfield Daily Examiner.

Ian had planned to retire after the 2021 RL World Cup and delayed his retirement for 12 months when Covid meant the tournament was postponed until last November.

He retired after the final and gave an interview to Huddersfield Hub in December in which he looked back on his career and spoke about his hopes for the future of the sport.

In honour of his service to the game and to mark his retirement Ian’s name was added to the Rugby Football League’s Roll of Honour last year.

At the time Ralph Rimmer, then the RFL chief executive, thanked him for covering the sport “with diligence, wisdom and care for almost five decades.”

At the Huddersfield Giants’ sponsors lunch in January Ian was made a life member of the club, for a lifetime’s contribution to rugby league media.

Giants’ managing director Richard Thewlis said: “It was only last week that we shared Ian’s company and the news has come as a terrible shock to us all.

“Ian was a rugby league man through and through, hugely respected in all spheres of the game and had rightly been recognised for his contribution to the sport over many years by the RFL and most recently ourselves.

“We send our deepest sympathies to his wife Susan and all his family and friends.”

Jon Dutton, the chief executive of RLWC2021, added his tribute and said: “This is so sad. Ian was a thoroughly good human being who cared deeply about the sport.”

Tributes came from across the sport and media world.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons and president of the Rugby Football League, said he was ‘heartbroken’ to hear about Ian’s death.

“We were only wishing him well on his retirement a few months ago after five decades as a sports reporter, so news about his death is shocking,” he said.

“Ian was an outstanding journalist who loved rugby league and elevated it as the Sport of Kings. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Susan.”

PA sports editor Ashley Broadley said: “Ian was an outstanding reporter, with a deep understanding and love for the sport of rugby league. We are all devastated at the news and are thinking of Ian’s family and friends at this sad time.”

Christopher Irvine, former rugby league correspondent for The Times, paid tribute on Facebook and said: “Heartbreaking news.

“Ian Laybourn was the nicest bloke you could meet, a fantastic colleague and one of the best human beings you could spend time with.

“Enjoyed a press box seat alongside Ian for more than 25 years. Never was there a calmer, more assured, or unfailingly fairer or more accurate sports journalist.

“He lived and breathed rugby league and I shared several fabulous trips with Ian to report 6 Nations union matches. His dedication set the gold standard.

“A devastating loss, just a few weeks after his wonderful retirement do. Taken from his family, friends and colleagues far too soon. Rest in peace, Ian.”

Writing on Twitter, sports writer Rob Stewart said: “Very sad news. Ian Laybourn was a fantastic journalist who served the Huddersfield Daily Examiner with distinction as its chief rugby league writer before joining PA.”

Andrew Baldock tweeted: “I was fortunate to know Ian for the best part of 30 years and he was a genuine hero. A brilliant reporter and a wonderful man. Sending love to Susan, Ian’s family and his so many friends.”

Writer and author Tony Hannan described Ian as “one of the nicest people and most talented rugby league journalists ever.”

He added: “And just as he was about to enjoy well deserved retirement too. Goodness me, life can be cruel. Fly high old pal. We’ll miss you.”

Rugby league clubs at all levels added their condolences and respects were paid at friendly matches on Sunday.

Readers who had never met Ian but knew his name through his writing also added their tributes.

Hunty tweeted: “I never met him but read hundreds of his excellent and wonderful rugby league articles. If you saw the name Ian Laybourn on some journalism you knew it would be a quality read.”